Data and Intelligent Transportation

July 31, 2014

Data, long known as a key component of e-commerce, can also move us to better places. Wherever we’re going, the simple truth is, we know more about getting there than ever before. Just how then are America’s leading companies and public officials making the most of it? The U.S. Chamber Foundation hosted a lunch July 28 with executives from UberRideScout, Arlington County, and ITS America to find out.

For Brian Worth, working for Uber has made him realize that technology’s role in transportation is about creating options for consumers. Since this time last year, Chicago has seen 25,000 more rides on its street. More rides, done more efficiently—that’s the promise of data-driven transportation. Worth finds that the “potential here is limitless,” creating a ripple of change that will reach many other sectors.

Uber’s policy battles are well known, and they stem from its inherently disruptive mission. The company aims to shake up old ways of doing things. The company trusts data to hold drivers and riders—both customers, in Uber’s mind—accountable for their rides. For Uber to flourish, it simply asks for sensible regulation and limited interference.

Uber is not the only ride service out there, and neither is the car the only transportation option available to you and me. That’s where RideScout comes in. As its CEO Joseph Kopser described, the startup aggregates public and private transportation data into a mobile-friendly platform. You can now look at going from point A to point B and see every way to get there, ranked according to reliability, flexibility, and cost.

Kopser believes that we all need to understand the “fully burdened cost of transport and mobility.” Just how much do we spend incentivizing car travel? If there’s no free lunch, how can we still get win-win situations for enough people? Thanks to RideScout, knowing what it costs to give every one of us the transportation options we enjoy is gradually becoming less like a game of hide-and-seek.

For Larry Marcus, the bureau chief for transportation engineering and operations for Arlington County, Virginia, data-driven innovation centers on two critical issues: infrastructure and demand. His county needs to understand what facilities it has and the service options currently being provided, both public and private. Just looking at cars, the county’s demand becomes clear—over 4 million vehicle miles are driven in Arlington every day. Some 40% of the county’s residents don’t ride by themselves, which suggests just how many of them enjoy ride sharing and mass transit as well.

Paul Feenstra of ITS America spoke on how technology has dramatically changed how we think about travel, often in ways we can’t fully see. Just ten years ago, it would have been normal to shuffle through reams of MapQuest printouts to get to our destination. Now cities are applying advanced analytics to monitor and redirect traffic flows, target engineering fixes to just the right spots, and pricing roadway congestion in order to better allocate driving.

The challenge will be to understand what users want now and what they will want in the future, before they even know it. According to Feenstra, “The next five and ten years are going to create a lot of new situations that we can't even think of today because of data quickly becoming available."

These advancements in data-driven transportation are opening up a whole new frontier: autonomous vehicles. The efforts of Google and others in this space can’t be underestimated. The result will be safer roads, for one thing. More questions will inevitably result about ownership too, since it may begin to make more sense to exchange a personal car for a shared one, and swap mass transit for simple public transit for hire. On-demand robotic cars will simply fit into existing business models; that is, if regulators let it.

What’s next then for data-driven transportation? RideScout sees “places, faces, and calendars all working together.” Arlington County is looking at integrating Big Data technology into buildings and streets. ITA America envisions more vehicles talking with each other to prevent crashes. Uber would like to see on-demand air travel at low cost to consumers.

If there’s one takeaway from the discussion, it is that competition will be an incredible driver of data-driven innovation. Average people will benefit along the way. More job opportunities will result. Housing, education, and transportation will mutually benefit, revealing along the way just how intertwined they are. Data-driven innovation in transportation makes for a fast lane of possibilities and promise.


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