Can you imagine what transportation will look like in the future?
There are autonomous cars, drone delivery, and wireless charging for electric vehicles. There’s the potential expansion of high-speed rail in the U.S., or the increased efficiency of mass transit. There’s the potential for reduced or eliminated car ownership. Maybe we’ll all be driving electric or hydrogen-powered cars. Elon Musk announced he’d like to build tunnels to transport vehicles using high-speed electric sleds, and potentially using those tunnels for his hyperloop concept. All this, and I’m still amazed I can get a ride with a few taps on my phone via a ride-hailing app.
As many fleet managers have said: It’s an exciting time to be in the transportation industry.
What Agencies Are Doing
Often, innovation is driven by the private sector. But public agencies are also leading the way in trying out new technologies and designing transportation systems for the future. Sure, public fleets have been testing out cars for OEMs for a while, or are often some of the first adopters of new vehicle technologies. But with increasing vehicle autonomy, increasing connectivity of vehicles and infrastructure, and advancements in alternative-fuel vehicles, they can make more of an impact than ever before.
In this issue, we highlight autonomous vehicles. Agencies are actually testing out or making clear steps toward adding self-driving vehicles to their fleets.
New York City’s Department of Transportation, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority in Florida, and the Wyoming DOT are piloting connected vehicle technology by deploying both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies. In a combined effort with the U.S. DOT, they’re installing aftermarket devices in thousands of vehicles (including fleet vehicles) that will be able to wirelessly communicate with other vehicles, with smartphones, and with infrastructure.
Last year, the City of Columbus, Ohio, won the $50 million Smart City challenge to “reinvent mobility.” Its projects include connected vehicles, a transit-pedestrian collision avoidance system, electric autonomous vehicles that will connect transit riders to first and last mile stops, and tech-enabled parking permits.
The Volkswagen emissions settlement has the OEM spending $2 billion over the next 10 years in zero emission vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure and education — $800 million of this is going to California alone. Funding has been set aside for two “Green Cities” in California. The lead contender for the first $44 million fund hopes to deploy about 700 electric vehicles as well as charging infrastructure.
Shaping the Future
It seems predictions for when self-driving vehicles will be available are all over the place. At the NAFA I&E this year, I sat in a session about autonomous vehicles with a young fleet manager who was skeptical. Self-driving vehicles are light years away, at least for fleet, he said.
My thought is, this may be true, but technology can advance at an astonishing rate. These projects public agencies are involved in are just the beginning stages of a major change in mobility. Government agencies, in working with private companies, testing products, encouraging and funding projects, and shaping the vision of what this future can be, are one of the factors pushing us toward a transportation future we can only dream about now.
What’s your vision of the future of transportation?