EXCLUSIVE: Twelve state DOT directors call for new era of cooperation as ITS America 2016, San Jose, begins


The start of ITS America 2016, San Jose, was marked yesterday (June 12, 2016) with a high-level Policy Roundtable meeting, where 12 DOT chiefs agreed that in order to keep up with the astonishing rate of change within the transportation industry, greater cooperation between their organizations and the wider transportation community will be required.

Other subjects touched on during a fascinating 90-minute discussion, which was also attended by Ken Leonard from the USDOT’s ITS Joint Program Office, included the need for greater risk taking, smart cities, funding and safety, among many others.

“The world is fundamentally shifting,” said Kirk Steudle, director of Michigan DOT. “It’s much bigger than this technology that today is on this pole and tomorrow is going to be wireless and in three days’ time it’ll be something completely different. It’s about understanding that our whole world is being turned upside down. We’ve got to think differently and we’ve got to think faster. What worked five or 10 years ago won’t work now. You’re going to have to be a little bit daring. If you’re really risk averse, then I suggest you don’t sit at this table!”

Bringing to the discussion disruptive transportation technologies, Roger Millar, Washington State DOT, said, “One of my favourite Henry Ford stories is that he said, “If I’d provided what customers wanted it would have been a faster horse.” Now is a really exciting and disruptive time. I think a great many of us are working really hard on a faster horse. We’re trying to adapt this wonderful new technology and innovation to perpetuate a way of doing business that is dated.” He went on to point out that his department makes huge investments in car ferries and park-and-ride schemes, but that these could quickly become obsolete in an era of ridesharing schemes, such as Uber, and autonomous vehicles, which reduce car ownership and increase foot traffic.

Leslie Richards of Pennsylvania DOT agreed; “The data we are seeing in Pennsylvania, and I would imagine others are seeing the same, is that the rise of ridesharing is helping with that last mile and so we are seeing ridership on transit increasing. We are also seeing an increase in people taking other modes such as bicycles. They know now that if they bike to work and a huge storm they weren’t predicting comes in, they can now get out of work without having to ride their bike. So we are seeing these big increases in transit use that we weren’t expecting in the beginning.”

Bill Kingsland of New Jersey DOT echoed calls for more joined-up thinking, “We need to become much more multimodal,” he said. “The Department of Transportation needs to be working with New Jersey Transit more, and across state lines. We need to solve our problems together. We are a relatively small state and the public doesn’t understand that they go from one jurisdiction to another. Truthfully, the public doesn’t care. They just want to get where they want to go. They want us to be working together. It’s not a strong suit of ours right now. We don’t talk to each other and plan together. Through these ITS projects we’re starting to do that.”

The discussion was moderated by representatives from sponsor HNTB, Bud Wright from AASHTO and Regina Hopper from ITS America.

Summing up, Bud Wright said, “There’s a lot that’s going on that is very positive. Collaboration with local government and OEMs – and all of us working together and talking about how we move forward. There are some different visions, but I think everyone up here agrees that highway transportation is not going to be the ultimate solution to every problem. It’s going to be about providing mobility services and mobility support to the citizens of this country. Highways will always be a major part of that, but other elements will take on increasing importance as we move forward. These are visionary people who understand the serious responsibility they have and they have had remarkable success in addressing it. Thanks for being here.”

“Thank you for kicking off all the things you are going to be hearing about over the next few days,” concluded Regina Hopper. “It is a debate – a discussion – about how ITS technologies are both defined and how they fall within the transportation field. It was a great kick-off. Thank you all of the panellists. We are honored to have each of you here. I hope everyone has a great ITS America 2016, San Jose.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).