Managing transportation infrastructure in the digital age
It is an exciting time in the transportation industry. Never before have we seen technology revolutionize transportation systems so quickly and so dramatically. Transportation agencies, like the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), are working tirelessly to learn about and test new technologies that could ultimately be implemented as solutions to improve the quality of life in our communities, while also understanding their impact on our infrastructure system as a whole.
Technology is the new asphalt. In today’s climate, new technologies have significantly greater potential to deliver a stronger return on investment than building new roads. Advanced technology developments, like smart infrastructure, connected and autonomous vehicles, faster wireless communications, and greater data sharing, offer unprecedented opportunities to create smarter, safer, less congested and more efficient communities.
The sweeping impact technology has on transportation and infrastructure knows no jurisdictional boundaries. So in Southern Nevada, we have placed a great emphasis on working together – building public-private, multi-jurisdictional and intergovernmental partnerships – to develop and implement forward-thinking plans that leverage technology as a solution to the region’s current and future infrastructure and mobility challenges.
Ensuring we have the necessary smart infrastructure and data sharing processes in place to enable the vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication has led to the launch of groundbreaking projects that are redefining transportation and propelling the future of connected and autonomous vehicles.
For example, in partnership with AAA and Keolis, thousands of passengers a month are riding a fully autonomous shuttle that operates in mixed-flow traffic in the heart of downtown Las Vegas. Drivers of specially equipped Audi vehicles can see on their dashboard a countdown to when a red light will turn green, a feature that will be critical for the development of autonomous vehicles in the future. Most recently, the RTC entered into a partnership with Aptiv on a pilot to design, develop and integrate autonomous service within public transit, with the goals of better understanding the rider experience, increasing transit access and reducing costs.
These are all exciting projects with diverse and dramatic implications for mobility and autonomous vehicles in Southern Nevada and beyond. Yet, while self-driving cars are cool and offer great safety and efficiency advantages, we also need to address the associated unintended consequences.
As driving becomes less burdensome, motorists may be more inclined to get inside their vehicles and commute, adding miles traveled to the infrastructure requirements. We are already seeing that to a certain extent with the growing use of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Nationwide, transit ridership is down according to the American Public Transportation Association, and a recent study from Northeastern University suggests increased use of services like Uber and Lyft is creating more congestion on our roads. The study showed that “nearly six in 10 said they would have used public transportation, walked, biked or skipped the trip if the ride-hailing apps weren’t available.”
If autonomous cars are added to the mix, they become even more attractive transportation options, allowing riders to work and read while on their commute. Thus, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will likely increase as self-driving cars becoming more prevalent, and increased VMT forces policymakers to strongly consider increased investment and expansion in infrastructure. So, as we continue to plan for our transportation infrastructure needs in the digital age, we need to manage the transportation system as a whole and move toward policies that encourage mass transit and multiple passenger shared vehicles, as opposed to just private ownership of autonomous vehicles that add more miles on our roads.
Technology continues to advance at a rapid fire pace, and as it does, these policy and cultural questions continue to develop. As the general manager of a transportation agency in a fast growing region, I continually challenge my team to embrace change as we plan for the future and to consider all effects technology may have – good and bad.
As a female leader in the traditionally male-dominated transportation industry, I find that we often have a different perspective when looking for solutions to solve problems. In my experience, women tend to take a broad approach to problem solving – looking at all aspects of an issue more critically and investigating options for solutions before charting a course for action. Additionally, I believe many female leaders place a greater priority on building consensus and partnerships to achieve their goals. These characteristics are critical as we plan for the future of transportation, because there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and no one person or agency can do it alone. We need to work together – across jurisdictions and among services – and leverage appropriate opportunities to ensure that our transportation infrastructure in the digital age offers the safest and most efficient mobility for all communities, large and small.