Could traffic soon be a distant memory in the next 20 years? Just as you don’t have to “wait” for data to be dispersed online, the same principles could be used in transportation infrastructure. If transportation infrastructure became supported by a connected network it could usher in new possibilities and opportunities that would fundamentally change the way people travel.
The reality is that transportation woes are getting worse—freight demand is increasing due to e-commerce and more people are becoming urban dwellers—yet the space and money for new and expanded roads are not available. The price tag for these capacity issues cost the U.S. economy $305B in 2017. This is a critical time for transportation stakeholders to shift their perspective.
Currently most transportation lives in silos. Notably, the majority of large metro areas have a busy airport, light rails, trains, buses, and cars that are all bringing people into and out of the city. Yet, none of these types of transportation share data. If they did, it could make all the difference. For example, if light rails and trains had data about airport congestion, they could configure their schedules to meet this better.
Unfortunately, the basics of transportation remain unchanged from decades ago, which means little optimization has occurred, and if so, it has been on a local level, not part of the bigger picture of transportation for a city, state, or country.
Leaders in the field should look to Internet Protocol (IP) for inspiration.
The internet and transportation have similarities. The internet pushes information through various channels across many mediums. Transportation does the same with people and cargo. The difference is that IP directs data in an optimal way because it is aware of all parts of traffic. Transportation could be using this same approach.
Instead of planning for more roads and lanes, the focus should be on optimizing what we have, which means all the different modes of transportation within a network need to be connected and freely share data to create optimal paths.
With the emergence of autonomous vehicles, this type of protocol is further enhanced. Autonomy works for both passenger cars, buses, trains, and trucks. With all these modes of transportation connected and do so with autonomy, the way roads look will greatly change. There would no longer be the need for stoplights and stop signs because AI-empowered vehicles would know the flow of traffic. This better routing of vehicles reduces congestion and accidents as well. When everything is working together in a streamlined way, efficiency is maximized and lots of time and money are saved by all.
Many may think the reduction of personal cars in the U.S. is unfathomable since the nation has the highest amount of personal cars per capita amongst large countries. Yet, a report from the Business Insider states that private ownership of cars will drop by 80% by 2030.
Why? Because public transportation, car sharing, and ride sharing will be much less expensive and more efficient for individuals in the future. So, this reduces the personal transportation.
Shipping may also be revolutionized by this technology. Autonomous trucks are the future of freight. The biggest adjustment to be made, other than the fact that there won’t be a need for drivers to make stops, is that trucks will need to be fully loaded. There are lots of trucks on the road today that are empty or not full. This available capacity needs to be utilized.
Think of it as more or a rideshare model. Shipments need to be picked up, so the shipper may use an app to find an available truck that happens to be headed that way. These trucks stop along their route and know where each shipment goes with just a scan of the data.
No matter what role a business plays in the world of transportation, investing in smart transportation should be a high priority. It is a significant competitive advantage for a company considering where things are headed. Transportation will continue to be a complex industry, however, organizing it in a similar method as IP is crucial for the evolution of transportation.