We need to find an alternative way to define intelligent transportation systems


I don’t think ITS is an industry. Now, that should get somebody’s juices going. I’ll explain my thoughts behind this. While intelligent transportation systems are designed for the public good, folks can’t buy an ‘ITS’ and probably don’t even know our name even after 25 years as an ‘industry’. Everything ITS does is called something else and sold as something else.

For example, one of the most valuable companies in the world is an ITS company, sitting on the board of ITS America. They don’t use any ITS technology. They depend on GPS, an app, the wireless network and the banking system. They provide on-demand ride services. Of course you may know them better as Uber.

It all reminds me of an ad campaign some years back developed by a chemical company. Their slogan was “We don’t make the products you buy, we make the products you buy better.” They weren’t selling their products but rather their contributions to the products of others. I had no idea why they felt the need to spend millions on that campaign, but I never forgot their tag line.

Today we could apply that approach to ITS. I would define ITS as ‘enabling mobility’. It’s not the ride-share company, or payments processor, the connected vehicle or the signal system. It’s making the trip better. We have for years defined ourselves by an extremely complex variety of products and services: public clients, car companies and consumer products. Instead why not define ourselves by what we accomplish?

We enable mobility.

The definition of ‘enable’ is to give someone the means to do something. To offer a tool or a solution to let someone accomplish their purpose. The focus is on the traveler, not on the tool but on what is being accomplished. And that is mobility: the movement of people in a population, as from place to place. It’s what we do. We make transportation systems better.

For years I’ve struggled with the cocktail party question of “So what do you do?” I had the option of going down memory lane and saying that I started E-ZPass, the problem being that it was

25 years ago. The alternative being trying to explain ITS. Now I can just say that I help to enable their mobility.

Why do I mention this now? It’s because ITS America (ITSA) is at a crossroads of success and anonymity. Maybe both. ITSA just celebrated 25 years and brought on a new president, Regina Hopper. I do hope that you do get a chance to meet her. She is terrific. She has started a process within ITSA to re-examine what we do and how we do it. While ITS applications are gaining traction, from Uber to autonomous vehicles, ITSA is not associated in the press with leading the charge. However if we redefine our role as an enabler of mobility, we can make all new products better and truly secure our legacy.

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