The Deck is Stacked Against Smart Cities
In the past month, I have been working with the ITE TSM&O committee on a white-paper to talk about Smart Cities. I had inadvertently forgotten that I had signed up for this task, and, after clumsily leaving an important teleconference, realized I had agenda items. Whoops! I then proceeded to apologize profusely and was gracious accepted back. Actually, this is a bit of an overstatement and maybe I had made a mountain out of a molehill. The Chair seemed to be okay with it in the end.
Anyways, in discussions with members of the committee they wanted to discuss how the ITE community could get involved with Smart Cities. My initial internal response was, “Get in line,” but after talking with them I believe they are really trying to do the right thing.
Another reason I wanted to this was in reaction to the USDOT Smart Cities Challenge. I really was floored by Columbus’ proposal, as the concept of health and transportation was a different theme than what I heard in the past. For the most part, I felt that some part of the 7 finalists and most of the 70 unsuccessful applicants treated this as ITS 2.0. I do not think this was the point of smart cities, which preaches technology as a mechanism for sustaining cities and connecting people. It was not a way for cities to buy more technology (as the speakers of ITS America gladly preached).
The point of this exercise is to help define what the transportation industry’s roles are in this environment. The challenge with IVHS, ITS, TSM&O, and now Smart Cities is that we are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The square peg being technology and the round hole being the concrete & asphalt mindset on which the rules and regs were built upon. These boundaries were not set up to handle technology and O&M, let alone smart cities. This was no more evident than in the candid discussions occurring at the 2015 ITE International Sunday Session on CV and AV. Most of the groups agreed that working with existing parameters to develop CV and AV will make the transportation profession’s involvement very minimal. They risk not being able to keep up with what the industry is producing.
Therefore, major items need to change. Without these changes, or at least a self reflection, the full dream of Smart Cities will leave the US behind. As this is a new direction (and newThe provided list of ideas below should be explored in further detail:
Major item #1: Holistic Systems Engineering
ITS has been pretty much standardized and commoditized, essentially killing the potential and innovation it could become. Cameras, detectors, and signs are pretty standard regardless of their use. While there is some active traffic management happening in the north part of the US, that is basically the only innovation. When we start talking about connection people to things (i.e., the IoT hoopla), I am sure this will start to happen:
Systems engineering is more than just a paperwork exercise. As the industry is embarking on new technologies and new interfaces, it needs to get outside of its comfort zone. This will require a system-level approach to providing an integrated economic infrastructure with telecommunications, energy, public health, and others to create truly smart communities.
Major item #2: Learn to Fail
There are going to be failures. This is inevitable with advancement, especially in the fast moving pace of technology. By accepting failures – in a safe environment – and the notion of failing, only then can the transportation industry keep up with everyone else.
Planning regulations and processes are great for building highways and other capital-intensive projects. However, with the ever increasing need for fast-changing technology, changes need to occur to allow for a systematic deployment of technology. These old processes and regulations impede progress and need to be revised.
While planning at a high level or operating at a field level, or strategizing at the highest level and implementing where rubber meets the road, there is a need to take a comprehensive view of organization alignment and follow-up actions. The experience and concerns of the implementers and operations staff should be rolled up, i.e., a bottom-up approach, and communicated to Management so that the appropriate guidance, policy and funding levels are determined while, the vision, mission and objectives of Management should be communicated through various layers down to the operations staff, i.e., a top-down approach. Like with TSM&O, the role of a good smart cities program should be to facilitate these two processes. There is a need to discuss these and similar approaches for mainstreaming TSM&O.
Cross-jurisdictional government involvement
The TSM&O industry and practice have been expanding at a rapid pace, thereby providing new and advanced technology devices to help mitigate traffic congestion, provide greater mobility, and monitor traffic impacts in real-time. As a result, the emphasis on adding new devices to the transportation system is leading to a focus on capital costs but to a lesser extent on the operations and maintenance (O&M) fiscal impacts. However, the concern for lack of O&M funding is quickly changing the way Departments of Transportation and other public agencies view the TSM&O investments. Hence the reason for a renewed focus on O&M. The Council has identified the need for addressing O&M needs as early in the process as possible, thereby making the ‘mainstreaming of TSM&O’ an important area for active discussions and follow-up actions.
The current procurement mechanisms are built towards the building of roadways. The low-bid process effectively commoditizes any sort of technology deployment, thereby leading to sub-optimal deployments. Flexible P3 contracting mechanisms from operations to building to procurement of devices needs to be on the forefront. ITE can act as a mentor for these types of discussions, as it is important to balance the efficiencies of the private sector with the public good of the public sector.
This is especially important as Smart Cities are dealing with the entire city, and not just the citizens most fortunate to have access to internet or a smartphone. The concept of equity must be paramount to the deployment; otherwise, the city will not function as intended and the resources will be missed by those who may need it the most.
A connected city thrives on being, well, connected. One of the most tried-and-true ways is to keep an open environment that allows for multiple players. This allows for scalability. A downside to this is that it slows down the process, but it will be open and achieve the end result, rather than being a haphazard string of deployments that won’t achieve the overarching goal of “smart.”
The transportation community is up against the private industry in this regard, as companies thrive on the notion of arbitrage. By providing something that is proprietary, or by operating in a space of limited knowledge, the industry can exploit this for higher than normal profits than normally received. Smart cities need an open platform and this cannot be infringed on through the absence of standards.
Institutionalization & Progressive Business Models
Given the evolution from IVHS to ITS and now to a more integrated TSM&O program structure with smart cities in the future, many of today’s experts have grown with the systems thereby producing a group of technology, policy and thought leaders who are experienced in what they do. This emerging community of TSM&O leadership is recognizing the potential need for dramatically different business models that integrate public, private, and university sectors in infrastructure systems and integrated transportation services. The need now is to institutionalize the best practices, their experience and expertise, and make it as effective as possible. Ways and means to accomplish this goal may be discussed at a leadership level within the ITE community.