In early October, I attended the ITS World Congress in Bordeaux and had the opportunity to speak at an Executive Session. I even got to spend a few days of rest and relaxation in Paris before the conference and was reminded of how well the French treat food.
I’ve participated in most of the World Congresses so I had a pretty good idea how it would run. With that as prologue let me take advantage of this forum to muse on the idea and the reality of a World Congress and offer some of my usual candid thoughts.
The first World Congress was in Paris in the mid-1990s and I had just left government for the world of consulting engineering. I had just developed E-ZPass, the toll scheme in Northeastern USA, and was eager to see what was happening beyond the US shores. I was surprised at how organized the European countries were, as well as how impressive the unified plan for deployment from Japan was. At first glance I saw seamless development and deployment elsewhere, while I had struggled with independent agencies in seven states to agree on a joint technology.
Over time, I came to realize that the internecine struggles between governments and operating entities was a global phenomenon and not just limited to the USA. Based on that reality, I guess I’m not surprised that there is too little international cooperation among the ITS community. Some years back, when I was ITS America board chair, I initiated a dialog with ERTICO-ITS Europe to develop an international position on how ITS was an essential element of sustainability. The idea was to work together on a position that we could then individually use with our governments to generate support for ITS. That effort faded away after several meetings and a draft white paper that neither of us was able to use effectively. Perhaps the time is once again ripe for real international cooperation. The Congresses are a forum for what I call ‘show and tell’. All of the major panels have an equal representation from the USA, Europe and Asia, selected by their associations. We do hear a lot of great presentations, but do not have cooperation on the agenda.
In a struggle for public resources, infrastructure is not faring very well in the USA, so it’s no surprise that the technology to make it more efficient fares even less well. I have to believe that our friends in Europe and Asia face the same challenges with government funding. Privately funded and commercially available ITS will fill in part of the need, but dedicated public funding for ITS infrastructure will still be needed at a higher level than today.
Maybe we can use the World Congress as a forum to polish our arguments, develop joint position papers, and help each other to achieve the level of deployment that we know is required. Let’s be a World Congress and not just a World Conference.