In this two-part blog series, Iteris national data practice leader Anita Vandervalk will explore the future of transportation data and technology, and explain why transportation agencies need a comprehensive data strategy.
Our future transportation systems are connected, automated, networked, electrified and smart. Connected and automated vehicles, smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and digital innovation are all playing key roles in transportation mobility. As a result, transportation agencies are facing a rapidly changing landscape, changing roles and several data challenges. These factors create uncertainty but also opportunities in terms of planning and operating our transportation systems.
Rapidly Changing Landscape
Transportation agencies are at a critical juncture in these exciting times, while rapidly evolving technology combined with trends such as shared mobility and mobility as a service are creating “disruptive” and uncertain environments for transportation planners and operators. Meanwhile, public and private data from vehicles, mass numbers of sensors and third-party data providers are proliferating at an astounding rate.
Transportation will both generate and require more data than ever. Transportation agencies must harness, collect, integrate and apply analytics to data to ensure they achieve their mission to provide mobility and safety to an ever-changing population with evolving preferences and needs.
Some are questioning the role of transportation agencies in this rapidly evolving data-driven world and there is no doubt about it: transportation agency roles are changing and becoming even more relevant:
- Regarding traveler information, the role of agencies remains one of being a trusted advisor regarding mobility choices based on data from sensors and systems, especially in times of emergency. In a recent conversation with Andrew Heath, state traffic engineer for Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) Traffic Operations division, when asked what the future of traveler information and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) holds for GDOT, he replied:
“The public appears to rely on the DOT for information and advice especially in times of crisis, as indicated by dramatic spikes in traveler information usage. It’s imperative that the DOT continues to provide accurate and timely information during these emergency situations.”
- Transportation agencies are an integral, central component of the transportation technology transformation underway in our industry today. They are the coveted owners of critical sensors, networks and information to guide travelers in their quest for ultimate multimodal mobility within and between our cities.
- As it relates to data, agencies must “infomediate”, which is to connect data providers (including themselves) with those who need the data.
A recent article, The Department of Transportation of the Future, states that “Transportation will be dramatically different in 10 years. To adapt public entities and stakeholders must act today.” The authors further suggest that agencies have three to five years to adapt to the changing landscape of connected and autonomous vehicles, shared mobility, IoT and other disruptive forces. If they are not prepared, transportation agencies will “be slower to convert growing data sets into actionable plans and projects”.
The transportation industry, however, is still very much behind other industries in successfully harnessing and leveraging data. Although transportation agencies have a significant stake in the explosion of technology, communication, integration, and network of sensors and data, they continue to face a variety of challenges related to technology platforms, incompatibility of standards, interoperability and institutional obstacles such as data silos and a need for governance. Attempts to organize, manage and govern data uncover data in silos and a lack of real time data, access to private sector data sources, tools to integrate data, analytic tools to provide insights combined with lack of time, skills and policies/standards to address the issues properly.
Public sector transportation operations and planning professionals are constantly bombarded by new data vendors extracting, analyzing and marketing data from social media, sensors, IoT, probes etc. None of these solutions alone, however, will solve every issue and allow for maximum efficiency in the mobility and safety operations of our transportation system. There is clearly a need for agencies to have a solution to bring the elements of data, architecture, tools and governance together.
In part two of this blog series – which you can read here – we'll focus on what DOTs, including states, counties, regional agencies and cities can do to prepare themselves for the future.
This article was originally published in FLITE, the official publication of the Florida Section Institute of Transportation Engineers.
About the Author:
Anita Vandervalk is associate vice president, Transportation Systems at Iteris.
Connect with Anita on LinkedIn.