The ongoing pandemic and economic slowdown are generating serious repercussions. Regardless of the headwinds or tailwinds, the past year has heightened the urgency for governments to provide a strong, stable transportation infrastructure that helps people travel safely and conveniently.
Most transportation agencies currently face severe funding challenges that may ripple for years to come. But as technologies converge and multimodal transportation becomes more prevalent, there are new opportunities for government agencies, transportation authorities, and technology providers to deliver faster, easier and more convenient journeys for travelers everywhere.
The future is about understanding the universe of elements that make each traveler’s journey unique – so patterns, similarities and structures can be identified. These clues form the basic roadmap for creating innovative solutions to help move mobility forward.
The five key societal drivers
To better understand the future of transportation, it’s important to acknowledge the drivers shaping the industry, along with the world around us:
- Consumers want more
- People are aging
- Do less ecological harm
- Urbanization requires automation
- Focus on safety and accessibility
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
1. Consumers want more
77% of the U.S. population owns a smartphone and most adults spend three hours and 35 minutes on their devices each day. People increasingly expect to manage every daily task from their phones.1
Within the transportation industry, this trend has taken hold as people search for more information, insights, and convenience from travel options. For example, a navigation app that reroutes a driver to avoid delays or contactless payments for curbside parking.
It’s important to note that transforming travel experiences requires more than apps or AI. Agency leaders recognize the opportunities and challenges in providing digital collaboration across public and private sector organizations to create more connected and universal travel.
2. People are aging
As state and local governments have been forced to deal with shrinking budgets, it’s still crucial to prioritize maintenance and redesigns that incorporate safe, convenient multimodal access on existing transportation infrastructures.
This is particularly important as our nation’s demographics evolve. Currently, an estimated 8.5% of people worldwide are age 65 and older. This is projected to jump to nearly 17% by 2050.2 In the U.S. alone, that means 83.7 million people.3
In fact, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that on average U.S. residents will outlive their ability to drive by up to 10 years.4
State and local government leaders understand that facilitating the way people travel within and across cities is crucial to sustaining the growth and viability of municipal areas. This is why transportation agencies are looking closely at investments in infrastructure, technology and customer experiences. Agency leaders understand the need to collaborate across transportation modes, and improve operations that traditionally resided in separate silos.
3. Do less ecological harm
It’s no secret that road congestion has a negative impact on our global environment. That was made clear when measurements this past spring, during the U.S. economic shutdown, resulted in a 25% reduction in NO2 pollution.5
Air quality improvements aside, funding challenges generated by less traffic on roadways during the global pandemic have contributed to the transportation industry’s focus on reducing congestion and improving environmental air quality.
For example, the U.K.’s Climate Change Act set a target for England to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 34% lower than 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% lower by 2050. As people around the world reemerge from regional shutdowns, transportation agencies are working to embrace smarter solutions that will help them mitigate environmental impacts.
4. Urbanization requires automation
Although recent reports have highlighted how urbanization may be weakening due to the shift to working from home and an exodus from cities, industry observers maintain that urbanization will play an enormous role in the years ahead.
In the transportation sector, a top priority has been curbing congestion. Many municipalities tend to focus on widening or building new highways. But that hasn’t helped alleviate congestion, largely due to a concept that increasing roadway capacity encourages more people to drive. Despite increasing road capacity by 42% from 1993 to 2017, congestion has skyrocketed by 144%.
Instead, states and localities must shift their focus toward leveraging technology and innovative methods to better maintain existing infrastructure. This offers the best path forward to improve safety, reduce congestion and responsibly manage scarce resources.
For example, one of the most effective methods to get more people to walk, bike, or use public transit is to redesign existing roads to make them feel safer and more convenient. Technology solutions such as pedestrian HAWK signals, intersection signals that turn green for buses, and cameras that can detect and ticket unsafe driving behavior will also help.Government agencies are also rethinking how they price valuable public assets, from managed lanes to parking spaces, through congestion or dynamic pricing.
5. Focus on safety and accessibility
Making multiple transit modes safer and more accessible is a crucial imperative. In fact, it’s a primary goal of the United Nations Sustainable Development initiative.
Many people who live in cities have barely used their cars for months. Some may decide to shed the costs of car ownership entirely. Meanwhile bicycling is booming in China as people avoid public transit.
The need to deliver faster, safer and more economical travel experiences presents a clear opportunity for transportation agencies to help improve or reinvent mobility for constituents. Consumers want a seamless, safe experience. And the ability to foster greater interoperability across transport modes, from one provider to the next, is one way to help ensure this.
While it’s difficult to make long-term predictions based on a few interesting pandemic trends, it’s increasingly clear that costs and accessibility will play a pivotal role in determining the types of transportation services that are likely to emerge in the months ahead.
As we learn to live through the pandemic, challenges are far-reaching. This is spurring municipal leaders to rethink the entire transportation system, from project prioritization, to planning, to maintenance, to help cities and nations emerge stronger than before.
When given a choice, consumers are driving mobility forward. Many are willing to pay a premium for speedier travel on dedicated toll lanes or dynamically priced roads. Meanwhile, consumer-driven advances such as ride sharing, electric vehicle charging and bike sharing are having an impact on municipal curbside management. And the use of multimodal apps for trip planning are expected to give travelers greater choices about what best suits their minute-by-minute travel needs.
By taking a more holistic view of the headwinds and tailwinds created by the global pandemic, transportation agencies and their trusted partners, including Conduent Transportation, will help cities and local regions keep pace with evolving consumer demands. Luckily, there are solutions available to help cities better manage evolving transportation demands.
1. eMarketer, Mobile Time Spent 2018: Will Smartphones Remain Ascendant?, June 2018.
2. United States Census Bureau, An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States, May 2014.
3. AARP, Driving toward the future, Jan 2018.
4. United States Census Bureau, An Aging World 2015, March 2016.
5. Science Direct Journal, Changes in U.S. air pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic, Oct. 2020. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/eastpro/2009/0/2009_0_180/_pdfThe Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019.