By the time this is published, the ITS World Congress will have passed, ITS America will have a new president, and the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) will still be in its anti-regulation mode. How are these connected? Let’s look at their individual challenges and, then, a suggestion.
First, the ITS World Congress has been a valuable gathering place for the industry’s community for more than 25 years, but it has not lived up to its potential for international cooperation. It has a board of directors and I am a long-standing member, but its sole focus has been on each individual World Congress that takes place in a different part of the world each year.
It has always seemed to me that the lost opportunity was for a group – the board – to work together to develop joint ITS policy recommendations that could be offered to, and could influence, national and local governments. I still believe that potential exists. Years ago, when I was ITS America (ITSA) chairman, I had ITSA work with Ertico to create a joint policy position on a long-forgotten topic, but that effort ran out of steam before we could present anything to our respective governments.
Second, ITSA will have a new president and a lot of work to do in order to reclaim its domestic leadership role. The historic core of the membership has been the departments of transportation and their role in the deployment of ITS is increasingly being challenged by the direct provision of technology to customers. There was a time when DOTs purchased all the ITS technology that was to be deployed. Today we can access a world of technology via our phones and the DOTs have no role in it. Their responsibility for network performance as well as health and safety won’t go away, but the ability to do that will be limited because so much of the information that travelers receive is not from the government.
Third, USDOT has failed to create a national transportation policy for the 21st century and this failure stretches back through several prior administrations. It is only exacerbated by this administration’s disinclination toward regulation. While Congress has addressed automated vehicles, the regulation to create connected vehicles languishes in DOTs. There is some hope that the automotive companies will deploy a common connected device, but there is little hope that the departments of transportation will take on the big policy issues. Thus, the two organizations with the greatest potential influence on US transportation technology deployment are in transition and the potential international partner is just focused on meetings. So here is my plea to all three.
We are in the most challenging time for transportation in our lifetimes. We are faced with connected, automated, electric and shared vehicles. High-speed, wireless communication is getting more ubiquitous. Somebody with a megaphone needs to articulate how they work together and come up with a policy framework for the future. Any volunteers?