ITS America (ITSA) was born 25 years ago and I’ve been privileged to be a part of it from the beginning. It has gone from being a lone voice in the wilderness to one voice in a rising chorus. You might think that ITSA has fulfilled its mission now that transportation technology is so prevalent, but I believe its challenge today is similar to the challenge it faced 25 years ago: how to integrate independent technology into the greater service. Along with this is the challenge of cooperation between various levels of government and the independent corporate world.
In 1990 we were developing traffic management systems and were thrilled if we could deliver poor-resolution images to a traffic control center, which would then let the media know where the incident was, via fax. Personalized traveler information was a dream. Consumer products were still awaiting good maps. The car companies that were there at the beginning soon lost interest.
What a difference low-cost, high-speed data, personal devices and the internet have made. Now, everyone is in the business, from local governments to the largest corporations on the planet. We have in our hands the most powerful traveler information device ever created. Governments have access to traffic information not only from their own network, but also from multiple independent providers. Car manufacturers are working on vehicles that can’t crash.
In this new environment, what is ITSA to do? It needs a new path to save itself from obscurity. It needs to lead and not just bring folks together. The last ITSA national ITS plan was on my watch as board chair 15 years ago. It’s time for a new national vision.
The good news is that ITSA is stepping up to the plate to lead. The organization’s president, Regina Hopper, and Jill Ingrassia, board chair, have initiated a wide-ranging review of what ITSA is and what it could be. There were extensive discussions at board meetings and council meetings, and they held several regional forums. The synthesis of it all is a new national plan.
ITSA is going to create ‘Vision 2025: Moving from A to Z without delay, harm or death’. That’s a good goal to believe in.
To support this, it will develop a roadmap for policymakers, public officials, corporate leaders, academics, and public safety and other groups to maximize the benefits of ITS. To go beyond the plan, ITSA will educate and communicate with diverse groups.
The truth is that while business in transportation technology is good, that does not necessarily translate into a better transportation system. It translates into better parts of a transportation system, but we need a vision to guide us. Think of it as the Interstate of the 21st century. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?