Drive-by transportation wisdom for smarter cities

Sun, 2014-12-14 11:02 -- Liz Enbysk

Transportation remains an irritant for cities large and small the world over. How smart technologies can soothe transit aches and pains was a focus at the Council’s Smart Cities Now forum in San Diego earlier this month. Co-sponsored by Council Lead Partner Qualcomm and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS) Leadership Circle, the forum brought transit officials and experts together to discuss ways to overcome mobility challenges.

Turning transit challenges into benefits
IBM Global Manager for Transportation Eric-Mark Huitema calls data the heart and art of transportation in smarter cities. He explains, for instance, how data analysis helps unsnarl traffic in a French city by advising delivery trucks of the optimal routes to use for deliveries. In Florida, he says the same technology is reducing traffic jams at big stadium events by making the venues themselves smarter and flow more efficient. IBM is a Council Lead Partner; its Intelligent Transportation software provides citywide traffic management, traffic prediction, transit analytics and transportation operation capabilities.

Getting more ROI from transit investments
The average American today spends 53 hours a year stuck in traffic, according to Phil Silver, Director of Business Development for Urban Insights Associates, a subsidiary of Council Lead Partner Cubic Transportation Systems. With urban growth, more people and more cars, traffic congestion is a challenge cities can’t avoid. Yet, says Silver, for as much as cities are investing in their infrastructure assets, they aren’t getting enough return. Applying data analytics can help transit operators understand if people are using their network the way it was designed and if not, make adjustments.

What keeps Dr. Bev Scott up at night?
The CEO/General Manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) oversees 6,200 employees who work on a legacy transit system serving the greater Boston region. Scott calls MBTA the grand dame of transit, but said it relies on 20th century armor to do a 21st century job. Oftentimes, she observed, new DNA is required in organizations like hers that are transforming the way they do business to meet 21st century demands. Yet what Scott says keeps her up at night is that hundreds if not thousands of employees could leave tomorrow -- whether for new jobs or retirement -- and she doesn’t know where their replacements will come from. Clearly people are important to Scott, particularly vulnerable populations who she says shouldn’t be overlooked in the smart technology conversation. “It’s not just a conversation about chips and sensors,” she said.

Urban connectivity solves problems at the edge
Transforming the city eco-system with citywide connectivity brings big advantages to cities and their citizens. Qualcomm Senior Vice President for Business Development Laurie Yoler explained why – in addition to scalability and interoperability – cities should consider the advantages of processing data locally – or at the edge -- rather than sending it back to the cloud for processing. For example, she says putting sensors on a transit system and then collecting the data isn’t the big win. Rather, using real-time data at the edge means being able to solve problems where they're occurring. A transit rider, for instance, could know not only the bus route, but also how many seats are open, whether there’s a spot available for a bicycle, etc. Qualcomm is a Council Lead Partner with pioneering connected vehicle and wireless electric vehicle charging technologies.

How cities make travel easier for visitors
Cross-border, intra-city travel is increasing – and be it for business or pleasure, that travel is an economic stimulant cities want to encourage. But those that use regional or city-specific smart cards for transit payments are not providing the seamless experience they could be. The better approach, suggests MasterCard VP Will Judge, are interoperable contactless payment solutions. Enabling transit payments with contactless cards and devices means visitors don't have to queue up to buy a card or pass, making it a more efficient, faster and secure experience for travelers, Judge says. That, he adds, explains why contactless solutions are quickly becoming the norm in parts of the world. MasterCard is a Council Lead Partner.

Saving Dallas commuters time, money and more
The much-traveled U.S. 75 corridor in Dallas has a history of congestion and accidents, not unlike major thoroughfares in urban areas around the world. Working with stakeholder groups to solve the problem, Schneider Electric debuted its web-based EcoTrafiX advanced transport management system along the busy corridor. Steve Garbrecht, VP of Software Product Marketing for Council Associate Partner Schneider says the solution will save nearly a million gallons of gas a year and reduce emissions significantly. It will also save people traveling the route time and money and improve their level of safety.   

What next for car-obsessed California?
The Golden State has 35 million people – and 132 million registered vehicles, according to Bill Figge of the California Department of Transportation – or CalTrans. Meanwhile, the transportation sector is responsible for 40-45% of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in California, which has established aggressive rules about reducing those numbers. Figge points to a new cabinet-level transportation agency in state government as an indication of how serious state officials are. And CalTrans has tweaked its mission too so it’s not just about moving vehicles -- health, safety and sustainability are also priorities.

Will peer-to-peer car rentals make a difference?
If you ask Padden Guy Murphy, head of Public Policy and Business Development for car-sharing startup Getaround, the answer is yes. Getaround enables car owners to share their vehicles when they aren’t using them, for a fee.  Murphy calls the system powerful for owners and magical for renters. And there may even be something in it for people who don’t use Getaround; Murphy anticipates taking 10,000 cars off the road every year at zero cost to taxpayers. And, he says, with the average car owner able to make $500 a month by sharing a car when they aren’t using it, they can put the money toward an upgrade to a better, more efficient vehicle.

Universities provide lessons in smart transportation
From Carnegie Mellon's Traffic21 Institute in Pittsburgh to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Center (UMTRI) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, campuses are serving as smart transportation test beds. Peter Sweatman, Director of UMTRI and also Chair of the ITS America Leadership Circle, says as part of their research they are equipping autos with wireless communications technology – turning the learning institute into something resembling a car dealership. They are also building a facility to test autonomous vehicles and their role in reducing traffic accidents. Stan Caldwell, Traffic21 Executive Director, says not long ago it was a question of if and when autonomous vehicles would take off; today the only question is how.

Luggage isn't the only thing Tesla is storing
The spendy Tesla Roadster was a car that people wanted to own, which showed electric vehicles could be desirable, Tesla Motors Business Development Manager Ted Merendino told the forum. And its Model S luxury sedan has won the industry equivalent of an Academy Award. While Tesla is first and foremost a car manufacturer, he says it's also about producing compelling technologies to accelerate the EV adoption. He mentioned the company's forays into stationary energy storage and a new $5 billion factory east of Reno where the company will manufacture lithium ion batteries. But the question of the hour from the audience? "When will there be an affordable Tesla available for poor people like me?" Merendino said a $35,000 Model 3 is coming in the 2016-17 timeframe.

More from the forum…
Former DOT boss LaHood: Congress needs a lesson in smart transportation