A Tipping Point for Transportation

A Tipping Point for Transportation

This piece was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of electroindustry.

Bryan Mulligan, President, Applied Information, Inc. Mr. Mulligan chairs the NEMA 3TS Transportation Section.

With the advent of connected and autonomous and electric vehicles (CAV and EV), the transportation industry is about to change dramatically from its current iteration. These changes could bring significant benefits to America’s roads, as they have already been shown to improve traffic flow, reduce roadway injuries and fatalities, and reduce emissions. The NEMA Transportation Management Systems and Associated Control Devices Section (3TS) plays a vital role in supporting CAV and EV by creating connected vehicle initiatives and introducing Standards to ensure a smart, connected vehicle ecosystem.

While technology is improving rapidly, cities’, counties’, and states’ methods of procurement  have mainly remained the same. Most public agencies continue to use a style of acquisition known as asset management. In these cases, the agency chooses the products it will buy in the future based off what it owns already, severely limiting the scope of what the agency might purchase. For example, an agency that uses an assets-based procurement method will purchase and lay fiber optic connections before it can deploy an intelligent transportation system (ITS). This costs the agency additional time and money, when taking an alternative approach may enable the agency to deploy an ITS quickly and efficiently, with fewer costs.

One alternative approach is known as outcomes- based contracting. This type of procurement focuses on purchasing technology based on the outcomes it delivers. This means agencies can buy technologies with significant, proven benefits, even if the agency doesn’t own a qualifying resource.

One could draw a comparison with the way businesses purchase electric power. When purchasing electricity, the buyer doesn’t first purchase power poles and hydroelectric dams; instead, they use an existing network owned by the power company. This method of procuring goods and services has several key benefits, including reduced costs, leveraging private sector partnerships, and reduced implementation time. This gives agencies more access to resources like cloud computing, shared intelligent infrastructure, and electric vehicle deployment.

Under outcomes-based contracting, a city  would not need to purchase and lay fiber optic connections before deploying an ITS. The agency could utilize and build upon the existing cell network by contracting with the cellular network owner, making cellular-based ITS a viable alternative. This saves the agency both money, as they don’t have the exorbitant cost of purchasing and installing fiber at each of their intersections, and time, as the communications network is already in place.

Combustion engines, fossil fuels, concrete, and the unwieldy method of asset management purchasing have long dominated the transportation sector. However, if public agencies want to remain relevant and diligent in their duty to provide for their citizens, they must act now. They must seek new methods of infrastructure management, such as outcomes-based contracting, to keep up with the rapid change in technology coming from the private sector. ei

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