Eno Begins Work on Exploring “Digital Cities”

The digital and information age has brought about a revolution in transportation services.

Today, ubiquitous wireless network availability, an ever-growing array of mobile applications, Big Data, and societal/demographic changes have created an environment in which information systems, shared vehicles, and on-demand services play an increasing role in metropolitan transportation. People have a myriad of options for any given trip at the tips of their fingers including shared bicycles, hired automobiles, and shared use vehicles. Real-time information systems allow travelers to compare numerous available transportation options and services thereby increasing the usefulness and competitiveness of non-auto modes.

Rapid technology improvement and demographic shifts promise to make the transportation system even more dynamic over the coming decades. Autonomous vehicles – which may be in operation within the next decade – have the potential to disrupt this model even further. Yet public policy has been slow to adapt to the rapidly evolving nature of modern mobility.

In many larger metropolitan regions, where these new ideas about mobility are thriving, entrenched stakeholders and regulations are resisting such innovations in transportation. Small and mid-size regions that want to attract these innovations often struggle to provide the necessary infrastructure for them. Meanwhile, federal and state transportation policies tend to emphasize capital investment over operational improvements, leaving many departments of transportation and transit authorities unable to maximize the benefits of these new technologies. Many of these agencies similarly lack the ability to harness the power of new technology to effectively communicate with their customers.

Before we address policy, though, we first need to better understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of these dramatic changes to our mobility options. With more options for shared use, less dependency and desire for personal vehicles and gasoline, and greater access to information on options like walking, biking and transit, a host of positive economic and environmental impacts are likely to occur.

In addition to environmental effects, new transportation technologies have also already proven to provide a critical link between needs and transportation resources in the wake of natural disasters. Potential health impacts are also far reaching. By providing greater access to more transportation options, including active modes, transportation could play a greater role in reaching broad societal health goals. By analyzing and understanding the range of these potential benefits, we can help to determine the level of effort and attention these policies deserve.

The Eno Center for Transportation, with financial assistance from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, has launched a multi-stage research and recommendation project focused on the economic, environmental, safety, and health impacts of emerging advancements in metropolitan transportation. The program entitled “Digital Cities: How Technology is Changing Transportation and How Public Policy Should Respond” will create a stakeholder advisory group, host a public discussion forum, conduct regional case study research, produce a comprehensive report, and ultimately create a set of actionable findings and policy recommendations.

With this research as our initial findings, our goal will be to develop and disseminate policy recommendations for the federal government, and for metropolitan regions that wish to attract and encourage the latest technological innovations, and to use those technologies to improve upon performance outcomes. We will look at various regions around the country and the world that have been effective (as well as areas that have not been as effective) at harnessing these new developments in order to improve outcomes. From these case studies, we will be able to develop policy recommendations for the federal government, states, and localities in the U.S. that wish to improve transportation performance outcomes using these new technologies and services.

As the project advances, Eno Center for Transportation plans to sponsor an app competition and award four $10,000 development grants to selected winners in four cities. The advisory group will be in charge of choosing the winners and will be looking for app ideas designed to expedite suggested policy goals. Based on the outcomes of the first phase of this work, a one-day peer exchange workshop will allow collaboration between public sector Chief Information Officers and private mobile app producers so as to foster greater public and private collaboration. Other aspects of the program will be developed as the Digital Cities project progresses.

More information about the Digital Cities project can be found here.

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