The waders and the waiters

Jan. 29, 2018

It’s time for tolling agencies to get into the driverless seat

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House voted unanimously to pass the SELF DRIVE Act, H.R. 3388, which would:

  • Advance safety by prioritizing the protection of consumers;
  • Reaffirm the role and responsibilities of federal and state governments;
  • Update Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to account for advances in technology and the evolution of highly automated vehicles; and
  • Maximize opportunities for research and development here in the U.S. to create jobs and grow economic opportunities.

Further, during the next two years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to mandate that all new cars be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems. The result of this mandate is that every vehicle will both broadcast and be able to receive key safety information from other vehicles and the infrastructure.

The tidal wave of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAVs) technology is coming—and toll agencies must be ready.

HNTB’s emerging mobility solutions group is closely following the CAV story and the toll industry’s response. Two groups have emerged: the waders and the waiters.

The waders are forward-thinking early adopters who are wading into the CAV pool, proactively conducting needs assessments, planning CV pilot programs, even opening test facilities.

The waiters don’t have the time or resources to dive into the deep and murky world of CAVs. And, even if they had time, would be reluctant to invest in technology that could quickly become obsolete, arguing no one can predict what will happen in 10 years. And they would be right. Could anyone in 2007 have predicted how reliant society would become on smartphones, Uber, Lyft and Facebook?

But while trying to predict the future is risky, planning for it is not. The waiters must acknowledge and begin planning for a future that includes CAVs.

Toll agencies first must ask themselves what they want to accomplish with CAVs. Goals could include improved customer service, improved travel time or reduced congestion. No doubt most agencies will include safety. And while some toll agencies will argue eliminating deaths from auto accidents is not possible, a zero-fatalities goal renders different decisions than a goal to just improve safety.

Needs assessments reveal what stands in the way of an agency meeting its CAV goals. Based on prior studies and internal stakeholder input, a needs assessment identifies the construction, operational and maintenance needs of various departments to develop a tailored approach to CAV implementation. The assessment identifies candidate technologies and applications, potential partners, and pilot programs.

Technology assessments evaluate the technologies identified in the needs assessment and documents the agency’s readiness for deployment along with any needs, issues or concerns the agency may have.

The pilot concepts, recommended in the above assessments, will address the operational impacts, the infrastructure elements, where required, and the software changes necessary.

Soon, the toll industry will witness a historic eclipse of in-vehicle, personal and roadside technology. This convergence will have a profound effect on U.S. transportation. Toll agencies can’t sit back and watch it happen. They must act now.

About The Author: Hoeflich is chairman of toll services for HNTB Corp.