Over the past couple of months, I’ve written and spoken about the rapid changes occurring in transportation. I have also participated on a few panels with some very knowledgeable experts. As I listened to the presentations, I realized that we tend to focus on the impact to our segment or our micro-segment of this large and diverse industry. We tend to separate tolling, ITS, autonomous and connected vehicles, Hyperloop, in-pavement charging systems, Elon Musk’s subterranean highway system, highways in the sky, and any other innovations, into their own little silo. I started to think about when the tolling industry was creating the electronic toll collection (ETC) systems in use today. At that time, except for E-ZPass, which was a large regional system, nobody was looking at the impact on interstate travel. National interoperability was not even envisioned in the early days of ETC. As I looked back, I thought, if we had involved other parts of the country, and other evolving systems in these decisions, it would have saved us from having some of the interoperability issues we are seeing today. Would compatible national electronic toll collection systems have prompted other new innovations in technology or payment systems and ultimately expanded tolling? Would there be a national mobility system of not just tolling but parking, transit – even aviation?
But what’s past is done. My question today is, who is looking at the impacts of innovation and interoperability that each of the transportation segments will have on each other? How will these systems and modes be interoperable with each other – or should they be? Can the basis of systems such as RFID be coordinated? Can we design each payment system so all modes work together? I realize there is more than just technology required to do this. The business and operating rules that are much more difficult to negotiate. Every mode and every agency wants to maintain their own autonomy. There are financial considerations that need to be resolved, not just in deployment, but more importantly in long-term operations.
We all need to remember our ultimate clients are the families that use our mobility systems to get them from point A to point B. And our clients’ needs and wants are changing. Particularly our younger generation want an easy-to-use mobility system. For the most part, they are willing to pay for the convenience of the systems. They want to be able to change the commute when they wake up in the morning, log into their device and find the fastest, most convenient, or least expensive route to work. But that’s not all. They want to be able to pay for this commute – regardless of which agency or which mode of transportation they are using – with one device.
There are a lot of other systems that play into this, such as connected cities and vehicles, autonomous vehicles, maybe even the highways in the sky. Paying for all these systems must be easy and convenient for this demographic to use it. We’ve seen the development of popular payment systems such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet and are starting to see smaller systems and hubs develop. The payment side of these transportation systems further complicates their integration. But I think it’s a necessary step that has to be considered in order to make the systems a reality.