Governance and Institutional Reform in Transportation: Results of an Eno Workshop

Policymaking, planning, and decision-making tools that were designed for the past may not be appropriate for assessing and addressing current and projected capital and operational transportation and transportation-related issues. Many existing institutions and processes fail because they are not well-suited to the rapid changes and significant uncertainties that characterize today’s transportation programs. The questions about the missions, organizational structures, and decision-making processes of transportation institutions are threshold issues. Too often they are ignored.

Dramatic changes are reshaping the field of transportation. We are preparing for the rise of automated and connected vehicles. Social network transportation providers have challenged the future of public transit. We are addressing global climate change by adopting new sources of energy, changing land use and travel patterns, and grappling with better ways to make transportation infrastructure more resilient to rising sea levels and increasingly powerful and frequent storms and storm surges. New family forms and social structures are emerging. Large metropolitan areas have become engines of economic growth and innovation, and in dynamic urban areas there are often shortages of highly skilled workers, even as manufacturing jobs continue to disappear. All this is happening while transportation infrastructure is aging, and investment resources are becoming more constrained.

The confluence of so many changes has led some to refer to the current era as one of disruption. Stimulating and adapting to disruptive changes has been a constant in the transportation sector. Past transportation system changes have both given rise to, and resulted from, substantial changes in the institutions that dominate this field. Entirely new institutions or innovative financial mechanisms and tools were invented to address the new challenges of different eras. However, we are facing current challenges and disruptive changes with outdated institutions. How are, and how should, new developments and new challenges to accessibility, mobility, safety, economic growth, and social isolation lead to new or transformed transportation institutions and forms of governance?

In February 2019, the Eno Center for Transportation (Eno) with support from Reason Foundation (Reason) convened a three-day workshop (the Workshop) at the Pocantico Conference Center of Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) to explore these questions of governance and institutional reform in the transportation sector.  With supplemental funding from Smith Richardson Foundation, the Workshop brought together 24 scholars and executives, expert in transportation policy, finance, operations, technology, and environment.

This week, Eno released a report of the discussions at the Workshop. This report is not a summary or consensus statement of the Workshop’s proceedings.  The conversations were exploratory and wide-ranging, and the report of the proceedings identifies significant issues, areas of common concerns, and broad themes that emerged.

Addressing these governance issues is necessary to the provision of efficient, reliable, and accessible transportation services and facilities. Yet they are rarely researched or analyzed. Policy changes are often suggested without considering whether agencies are structured to enable the implementation of those changes. The intent of the discussions at the Workshop was to raise the most important governance and reform questions that might lead to specific recommendations.

For now, Eno, Reason, and the other organizers of this initiative hope that the Workshop and the report of its proceedings will open a broader consideration of whether today’s transportation governance structures, funding arrangements, decision-making mechanisms, and operating practices can respond adequately and appropriately to the disruptive changes that characterize American society and geography today. What potential reforms to transportation institutions and practices could improve safety, economic efficiency, and equity? What should be the federal role and the major focus of federal aid? What should be the roles of the public and private sectors in meeting these challenges? How can performance monitoring, evaluation, and management, and the explosive availability of real-time data best be utilized to assure that constrained resources are invested wisely and efficiently and to inform capital and operational decisions? And how can the values and interests of diverse stakeholders be recognized and accommodated, as transportation planning, policy, investment, and operational decisions are reformed in the face of dramatically changing economic, social, and environmental conditions?

It is our hope that the Workshop and the report of its proceedings will advance our consideration and work on these critical questions. Eno welcomes the research, comments, and contributions of the broader transportation community.

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