Technology and Transportation

The connection between technology and transportation has become a major point of discussion, both in terms of physical transportation and the strategies used to plan for and improve the future transportation system.

The future of transportation

As these advancements come online, planners gain access to more data and tools to support research and planning processes. Datasets such as StreetLight - which provide insights into travel behavior across different modes by utilizing locational data from cell phones and GPS units - are already improving the accuracy and level of detail incorporated into travel analyses. As the transportation system becomes “smarter” and more connected through Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), planners can expect increased access to even larger and more accurate datasets. In the state of Texas alone, over twenty different CAV programs have been proposed for deployment.

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Not only are CAVs envisioned as the future of commuting, but the technology is also increasingly being piloted for non-commuting trip purposes such as snowplowing, food and package delivery, and shuttle services. One such pilot program started deploying autonomous robot shuttles (created by a company known as Refraction) to deliver pizza in Austin, Texas in June of 2021, although closely monitored by a safety operator[1]. Similarly, most CAV programs still require an operator behind the wheel and strict oversight as they learn how to navigate roadways, interact with other modes of transportation, and find their niche within the transportation system.

Transportation data

The data relating to these trips can be paired alongside commuting data to comprehensively improve our transportation system and networks.

When thinking about the future of the transportation system and how advancements in technology will impact that system, the impacts can be categorized into the following three topics:

  • Safety: How will technological advancements decrease the number of serious injuries and fatalities on our roadways? Does the system have detrimental effects on the surrounding environment?
  • Convenience: How can the ease and convenience of getting from point A to B and back be improved? Can the first/last mile dilemma[2] with public transit and freight travel be eliminated?
  • Efficiency: How can the total amount of travel time be decreased? Are the fuel sources used to power our system sustainable? Can the effectiveness of transit services be improved?

Transportation safety

Driving is one of the riskiest and deadliest activities that many people undertake every day. Autonomizing this activity could have major implications for personal and public safety on the roadway. Once modes of transportation become increasingly autonomized, vehicles will be able to simultaneously communicate with each other and local “smart” infrastructure as they travel, eliminating the chance of human error. The increased amount of data coming from a CAV system will allow planners to gather further insights regarding vehicles operations (including safety, efficiency, day-to-day interactions, the effectiveness of road design, and much more) using “big data” technologies.

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Convenience

As technology advances in the field of transportation, it will become much easier to move people where they need to go with more options available. This ties directly into the concept of Mobility as a Service (Maas), where users are granted access to a variety of or combinations of transportation options (transit, ride-, car-, bike-share, etc.) through one application and one form of payment[3]. Maas gives users the flexibility to choose between services that accommodate their trip type and purpose better than an alternative option.

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Additionally, as the transportation network becomes more reliable, less congested, and more comprehensive, the time from door to door will improve and the amount of effort put into traveling will decrease.

Efficiency

As we transition both away from fossil fuels and towards autonomous travel, both the efficiency of the propulsion of the car and ability of the modes of travel (cars, buses, trains, etc.) to communicate with each other and get people to where they need to be will vastly improve. Additionally, Automated Driving Systems (ADS) for transit vehicles could greatly improve transit connectivity and service levels of both urban and rural systems. This effort will rely on the insights from transit service planners as the ADS is deployed and analyzed. One of the first pilot ADS programs (RAPID - Rideshare, Automation, and Payment Integration Demonstration[4]) launched in the City of Arlington in March of 2021, with partners such as Via, May Mobility, and UT Arlington and partially supported by an FTA grant. This fleet of five autonomous vehicles is the first of its kind to integrate autonomous on-demand rideshare with existing transit services in order to expand accessibility and service area.

Planning for the Future

The transition to a transportation system that is autonomous and powered by sustainable energies will face a set of challenges of its own. How do we successfully transition to a future system that relies on a network of autonomous vehicles and move away from relying on fossil fuels? To think about this transition, Partnerships, Funding, and Policy all need to be considered as vital pieces to the planning puzzle.

Who will be responsible for the production of this technology and who will oversee it? How will advancements be supported financially? And what regulations will be put in place to make sure the deployment is successful and safe?

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Partnerships

One aspect slowing the deployment to date is the relationship between the partners in the public and private sectors. The public side must provide clear, consistent, and efficient oversight to successfully deploy and transition to such a transportation system. Private partners will need to be incentivized to be competitive while working together to ensure the best technology and product are being created. Additionally, consultant firms like RPS will need to be involved throughout the process to provide oversight, research, and planning insight and studies. Such services and documents could consist of safety analyses (utilizing crash and performance data), drafting multimodal plans and studies that connect the integration of CAVs and other modes of transportation and reviewing the overarching impacts (improved safety, connectivity, accessibility, equity, the effectiveness of service, etc.) of CAVs on a city, county, and metropolitan planning area.

Policy

Many policies being set forth by state and federal governments focus on the interaction between CAVs and other modes of transportation (pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, buses, etc.). The policies are set out to monitor the safety, privacy, security, and other promised benefits of such a transportation system. If CAVs and their impacts aren’t already being accounted for, many planning documents (such as comprehensive plans, mobility plans, multimodal plans, Metropolitan Transportation Plans, transit development & coordinated plans, bike and pedestrian/active transportation plans, and others) will need to start highlighting the ways CAVs are being integrated into their planning areas and how that integration is impacting their transportation system. These impacts could have major implications for travel demand model forecasting, future land use planning, and many more efforts that currently provide the basis for our long-term planning processes.

Funding

There are currently many different funding programs (both the Department of Energy and Transportation have released several funding programs) that can be used to support technological advancements in the field of transportation, especially when it comes to furthering the deployment of CAVs. RPS has a proven record of success in helping agencies in Texas secure federal funds for transportation technology projects, including an award of more than $50 million to the TxDOT Austin District to support the rollout of intelligent transportation system (ITS) infrastructure throughout the Capital region.

Transportation Planning Services

As technology advances and is integrated into the transportation system, both the public and private entities facilitating that integration will need some form of oversight from planners. Planning services that can be provided by RPS include:

  • Transportation Demand Modelling & Forecasting
  • Setting local or regional objectives, goals, and performance measures
  • Assisting in the application for federal and state funding
  • Performing studies regarding the impacts, infrastructure challenges, integration and deployment phasing, design of infrastructure, and social implications

References

[1] https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/refraction-ai-pizza-delivery-robots-austin/

[2] First-Last Dilemma refers to the portion of a traveler’s trip that gets them to their first and last pickup point, such as from someone’s front door to their first bus stop or from their last bus stop to their front door.

[3] https://maas-alliance.eu/homepage/what-is-maas/

[4] https://www.arlingtontx.gov/city_hall/departments/office_of_strategic_initiatives/rapid

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