ITS America Panel Discusses the Future of Transportation Innovation

November 6, 2015 

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced its latest round of TIGER grants. Of the $485 million in grants announced, there were two grants of $25 million, one of which provided funding for a regional truck parking information and management system project. This project will implement an eight state regional management system using existing Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technology on major truck freight routes.

While every round of TIGER includes numerous exciting projects, this particular project illustrates a shift in the way that USDOT is using federal dollars. Instead of investing in infrastructure, its an investment in ITS.

Investment in all things at the intersection of mobility and technology is heating up at every level of government. A few weeks ago, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) hosted a panel to explore the future of transportation and the future of investments like the $25 million ITS TIGER grant.

Jill Ingrassia of the American Automobile Association (AAA) moderated the panel and opened the session asking the participants how they envisioned the transportation system in 2025. Tom Dingus, Director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), commented, “I think that the vision is really mixed. You have urban centers, and what people say about urban centers is true; but you also have other areas.”

Alan Korn, of Meritor WABCO, noted, “I think you might see things like platooning…. [and] platooning can clearly provide a payback.” Platooning would employ vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology to allow freight trucks to travel closer together, to create airflows that allow the group of trucks as a whole to use less fuel. Innovations like platooning would provide a clear boon for the freight industry. Korn later noted that enabling platooning is currently a state regulatory issue, and if regulations are different state-by-state it can be challenging to get the technology off the ground.

In her opening statement, Lauren Belive, Federal Policy Manager at Lyft, mentioned that Lyft’s “grand vision is carpooling.” Ingrassia pushed her on this vision; Belive elaborated that currently there are two models that Lyft is employing: the traditional model where a driver uses their application to be connected with a passenger going to a destination; the second model has only rolled out in select cities, LyftLine, where a driver is connected with multiple passengers going in a similar direction. Belive commented that Lyft’s long term vision is one that is truly carpooling, where a driver is connected with passengers on his or her way to where the driver is going.

(Ed. Note: Currently, TNC platforms like Lyft or Uber cannot really be called carpooling or ridesharing. Check out this article where a Lyft driver tried to drive Lyft to rideshare home, in an effort he calls “organic rideshare.”)

During discussion, Ingrassia asked Daniel Morgan, Chief Data Officer, how he believes the culture needs to shift in order to facilitate the growth of technologically enabled mobility. Morgan replied, “Institutions don’t like change, right?” He contended that open data and data brokerage will be a big deal as mobility technology continues to proliferate. One of the concerns of mobility technologies is providing governments with an excess of personal data about people. Data brokerage provides a solution to this- data would be funneled through private companies who could then sell that information in aggregate. This would ensure that public entities could understand trends and public needs, but would not be able to privy to information that is attached to a specific person.

When asked about the role of government in innovation, both Hilary Cain of Toyota and Korn emphasized the need for the federal government to ensure the access to the spectrum needed for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure. They both also reinforced that there is a need for increased investment in physical transportation infrastructure. Autonomous vehicles need lane markings that they can read as well as functional streets on which they can operate.

The panelists also touched on the pressing issue of cyber security. Cain commented, “ I think there is a false narrative that implies that those of us that are working in this space… [that] we are somehow deaf from cyber security concerns.” She continued, “we may not have street cred on cyber security like other tech companies have, but you should assume we are not working on it.” Morgan added, “the reality is that threats are always there and always evolving… we need to have a more effective dialogue about cyber security risks, how we are addressing them, [and] how we are handling them.”

Federal investment in ITS infrastructure through TIGER grants and panels that bring together various view points on the future of digital infrastructure are important components in paving the way for the future of technology enabled mobility. However, there are still many policy questions that have not yet been answered in terms of the best way for local, state, and federal governments to encourage rather than inhibit innovation. Eno is taking the lead in exploring these questions through our multi-part Digital Cities project.

Please contact Patrice Davenport at if you are interested in getting involved in this important research.

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