Centennial Institute Recap: On the Road to the New Normal

Eno’s Centennial Institute wrapped on September 24, 2021 after four days of insightful panels, intriguing conversations, and network building connections. As we wrap up, we wanted to take a minute to look back at some of the major themes, topics, discussed, and ideas exchanged.

Funding and Finance Strategies: With the ongoing action in Washington on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the pandemic-related drops in travel demand, funding and finance issues were front and center at the Institute. Prior to the pandemic, drivers were already paying less fuel tax per mile driven and new mechanisms are being explored to maintain quality service. Sessions at the Institute focused on ways to address on-going challenges with the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, as well as new programs like mileage-based user fees and congestion pricing.

“The barrier that we don’t talk enough about is the public knowledge gap. Most people in the U.S. don’t think about transportation. We’ve done a bad job of highlighting how transportation systems work and how they’re paid for. That’s a problem when we’re trying to engage the public in change. A lot of people think transportation funding is staying the same or increasing.” – Patricia Hendren, Executive Director, Eastern Transportation Coalition

Environmental Sustainability and Resilience: In 2019, the transportation sector was responsible for 29 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other sector. The current focus on the adoption of electric vehicles to mitigate those emissions is predominant, and the discussion at the Institute addressed barriers to implementation like the lack of electric vehicle infrastructure. However, participants noted that despite the potential reduction in emissions, electrification is not a silver bullet solution to cutting greenhouse gases  given the lack the energy requirements to charge them, battery life and safety, and the upstream emissions impact of producing batteries. A mix of near- and long-term strategies including mode shift and syncing transportation and land use planning are all critical elements to achieving emissions reductions.

“If you can’t find a local provider, or someone who’s willing to host that charging infrastructure what are the alternatives?” – Kristina Swallow, Director, Nevada Department of Transportation and President, American Society of Civil Engineers

Equity in Transportation: Long-standing transportation inequities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world slowly recovers from the pandemic, leaders today are looking to address past and future equity concerns. One of the most discussed disparities is the lack of access and connected services. It was clear from discussions during the Institute that transportation professionals are seeking to learn from the mistakes of the past and seeking alternatives to improve outcomes for their communities. Transportation agencies are looking critically at their infrastructure to prioritize neighborhood connection, walkability, and access, as well as reviewing the role of police in traffic enforcement. Most importantly, the theme of these discussions centered on deliberately designing more inclusive engagement that incorporates the lived experiences of those in the community.

“Where we are today has been exacerbated by the fact that most of our built environment—pretty much all of our built environment—was largely funded, planned, designed, built, and operated by one particular demographic.” – Nadine Lee, CEO, Dallas Area Rapid Transit

Cybersecurity in Transportation: We live in a world where devices, vehicles, and infrastructure are more interconnected than ever. As transportation systems grow more linked, it is important to enact proper safety and security measures. In May 2021, the ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline in the Eastern United States for days prompted panic buying and gas shortages throughout the country. The ability to attack infrastructure is a serious concern, especially as facilities and pieces of infrastructure are brought online. Electrical grids, power plants, vehicles, and transportation infrastructure could prove vulnerable in the future to cyberattacks by small-scale actors and national governments.  Some of the solutions discussed included the establishment of clear standards, working to create a safety culture around cybersecurity within organizations, and learning from international peers.

“There’s also a growing recognition and acceptance by many in industry that on the issue of cyber security, self-regulation often doesn’t work.” – Samuel Spector, Director of U.S. Government Affairs and Public Policy, Blackberry

The Future of Aviation: The global airline industry was expected to generate $188 billion in 2020 until COVID-19 changed everything. At its lowest point, air travel fell 90 percent in the United States due to lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions. In April 2020, only 100,000 passengers were flying daily nationwide. Today, although leisure travel returned to almost normal levels in June of 2021, business travel is still down by 40 percent. Full passenger recovery is not expected until 2023 and air cargo activity is only 20 percent of 2019 levels. However, navigating vaccine requirements and disclosures will remain a difficult issue for carriers and airports across the world. In 2021, federal investigations of unruly passengers increased to 17.8 per 10 million passengers, up from 1.6 per 10 million in 2019. To increase returns on investments and reimagine their facilities, airports are providing more multi-use spaces such as aeroponic gardens, playscapes for children, and university courses.

“We are at a time where we have to start thinking about how we can reimagine the journey for our passengers, for our customers, for our travelers. Business travel is not back like it was before – it’s all about the leisure journey. How do we make sure that we are an integral part of that, adding value every step along the way, and that we’re thinking differently about how to get people from point A to point B.” – Chellie Cameron, Chief Executive Officer, Philadelphia International Airport

Supply Chain Disruptions. This summer’s cargo ship grounding in the Suez Canal focused global attention on supply chain disruptions. Supply chains premised on precision “just in time” delivery are finding it difficult to adapt to late arriving vessels and congested ports, roadways, and distribution centers. The discussion at the Institute focused on possible federal responses, including increased spending from the infrastructure package. The ability of supply chain infrastructure like seaports to withstand weather and climate-related disruptions was also featured and it was noted that the visibility of the problem has elevated the discussion to the point where public and private sector collaborative action is likely across modes.

“The huge shift in the purchasing habits of the American consumer away from travel, entertainment, and experiences and into goods has not only created historically high volumes, but also laid bare a lot of underlying problems that were there before [COVID] and are now unbelievably exposed.” – Christopher Conner, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities

Transportation – from private automobiles to transit to cybersecurity to international aviation – is going through a remarkably dynamic period and public, private, and nonprofit leaders are tackling new challenges literally every day. For 100 years, the Eno Center for Transportation has made it its mission to analyze and report on those challenges, using our unique insights and observations to educate a range of professionals and connect them so they can learn from one another. We aim to provide real tools, solutions, and innovative ideas that can be tailored and customized in order to help build an efficient, effective, and equitable transportation system for all. The Centennial Institute is one step along our collective journey.

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