The Future of Transportation: Q&A with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx
Following his remarks on the future of transportation during The White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh last week, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx sat in a conference room on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University. Around the corner coming from his location, ride-hailing company Uber picked up passengers in an autonomous vehicle. Down the road, dozens of traffic lights of which incorporate artificial intelligence along with also real-time sensor data provided smoother traffic flow for motorists along with also trimmed their travel times by nearly a third.
In Pittsburgh along with also elsewhere, the transportation future of which Foxx had just finished describing is actually playing out very much in real time. Technology advances, in some cases, have made developments including autonomous driving possible. however in additional areas, of which transportation future is actually occurring currently because of unconventional policies promoted by Foxx along with also the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Car along with also Driver caught up with Foxx in Pittsburgh. The DOT chief, previously mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, reflected on the promise of autonomous along with also connected cars, the recent Smart City Challenge, the massive increase in traffic deaths, the potential of the shared vehicles unfolding right outside the window, along with also more. What follows is actually a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for grammar along with also brevity.
Car along with also Driver: You announced two brand-new grant programs This particular morning of which focus on advanced transportation along with also mobility technology. Are these an outgrowth of the Smart City Challenge?
AF: These grants are about harnessing technology to solve mobility problems, basically. In Pittsburgh, for example, the grants will help support much better traffic signalization. They’ll do some connected-vehicle stuff with some of the transit vehicles. They have This particular idea of creating a connected spine, a certain corridor, within Pittsburgh of which could demonstrate all This particular next-stage technology. Coincidentally, of which was part of their Smart City application. We said coming from the beginning with Smart City of which there were no losers. We saw cities of which were developing visions, along with also we were trying to find ways to help them as they implement those visions. So This particular is actually a case in point.
You received many applications for the Smart City Challenge—something like 78 in all. Where did of which interest spring coming from?
You know, we’ve had a dark winter in transportation, where the funding hasn’t been in place along with also big problems have been put on the shelf, along with also the imagination had sort of started off to die a little bit. the item’s not bad to see us in This particular renaissance period, starting to imagine a better transportation future. We were on the cusp of passing on to the next generation longer travel times, which no generation of Americans has done. I think we’re starting to imagine of which actually we can get travel times down faster. Maybe we can use technology to solve for congestion along with also climate change, along with also to make us smarter as we make decisions on where to place a road network or what have you. So I’m very optimistic of which we have shifted the conversation to a more proactive along with also positive direction.
The Smart City Challenge truly seemed to open the door to a lot of private along with also public collaboration. San Francisco had obtained $150 million in private-sector support associated with its application, Columbus had $0 million. Some of the additional cities had similar pledged private support. is actually of which sort of public/private collaboration the future?
The thing is actually, some of This particular stuff was starting to bubble, however the item hadn’t boiled over yet. along with also the reason was there was no catalyst. of which’s what I was talking about. When you have consistent federal funding along with also you can have programs of which are aspirational, you can do stuff like of which. however we had gone through This particular period of time where we just weren’t doing the item. The Smart City Challenge started off to capitalize on the item along with also have of which conversation in places like San Francisco, Austin, Denver, Kansas City, along with also Pittsburgh. They said, ‘You know what? We can develop a vision along with also have some partners in our back yard who want to help us, along with also as a matter of fact, $40 million can help us.’ So the item started off to build on itself.
Regarding another aspect of public/private space, there are a lot of ride-hailing along with also ride-sharing companies partnering with local transit agencies in one way or another. Do you foresee a day when those private sharing companies eclipse public transportation? Are they complementary or competitive, along with also how does public transportation evolve?
I think the item’s too early to say. The goal of public transportation is actually to help someone who doesn’t own a car get coming from one place to another. Right currently, with the ride-sharing services, even people who own cars are opting into using those services, perhaps intermittently, to negate parking or whatever. The Mobility On Demand grants of which we announced [at the conference] are going to help experiment with complementary services between transit agencies along with also ride-sharing companies, along with also we’re seeing partnerships emerge in places like Dallas. however whether ultimately ride sharing takes over is actually hard to question. I don’t know, quite frankly, along with also of which’s one of the exciting things about This particular whole area. What has been a static product—public transportation—is actually currently becoming much more dynamic.
in transportation or whether the inflection point happened. however we had to do something different.
[Zipcar founder] Robin Chase said of which she envisioned a future in which she’s riding her bike three miles every day without being worried about being hit by a truck. Clearly, coming from the latest statistics, road users like bicyclists are as vulnerable as ever. What’s the bridge to of which future, where bicyclists along with also pedestrians can use the roads safely along with also not have those fears, especially as traffic fatalities are going up?
the item’s a big concern of mine. When I came [into This particular position] as a former mayor, I had my team show me the accident along with also fatality statistics across modes, along with also at the time, bike along with also pedestrians were the only ones going up. So we built an initiative around the item. Here’s the brutal reality of the item: Most of the bicycle along with also pedestrian infrastructure within the country is actually put in place by local government, so our initiative focused on best-practice sharing among mayors. This particular is actually completely consistent with what I’ve said before about the age of cities within the 21st century, along with also the fact of which, while states may be the laboratories of democracy, cities are going to be the laboratories of transportation. Having said of which, we have to think about, number one, how are we building our street networks along with also providing for maximum safety for all users, including pedestrians along with also bicyclists?
I should note our sidewalks are inequitably distributed in This particular country. Fewer than half of the low-income communities in This particular country have sidewalks, so we need to be paying attention to of which at the local level, along with also we have to think about how technology relates to This particular as well. the item’s not just vehicle-to-vehicle communication. the item’s vehicle to pedestrian along with also vehicle to bicycle. the item’s how these connected along with also autonomous technologies can be taught to help us avoid accidents of which occur today.
currently traffic fatalities of all kinds are on the rise, along with also just within the past few weeks, you’ve unveiled the Road to Zero initiative. Obviously vehicle miles traveled are up, however what role does cellphone use play within the rising numbers? Can we just say the item’s obviously cellphones?
We’re still worried about distraction [along with also] the impaired driving, the folks not wearing seatbelts. There’s a lot of reasons why. We’ve actually put out a call through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for more study along with also research into precisely what the cause is actually. the item’s easy to say gas prices are low along with also people are driving more, along with also therefore we’re seeing This particular uptick. however of which’s neither a sufficient explanation nor an excuse for the numbers going up. So we have to figure the item out. of which’s one of the exciting things about the technology wave of which’s happening in transportation. the item’s like what was happening within the mobile-phone industry 20 years ago. In This particular industry, the possibility of which data along with also analytics can tell us precisely why things like This particular are happening along with also give us a basis for changing policy is actually pretty exciting. however we need to know more.
You mentioned V2V earlier. There’s some perception out there of which the item’s not as important as autonomous technology. Has vehicle-to-vehicle development taken a back seat? is actually of which accurate?
My goal is actually not to put our thumb on the scale. We think there are advantages to connected vehicles. We also understand there’s a view of which autonomous vehicles can be as safe as a connected car. What we have to be, as an agency, is actually open to all the possibilities, along with also while we’re being open to the possibilities, to do the best job we can. Preparing for a connected-vehicle future has been the charge of the agency for quite some time. So we’ll continue doing of which, along with also—cross my fingers along with also cross my heart—we’ll get the connected-vehicle rule as an NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] before the end of the administration along with also let of which process run its course.
V2V, cybersecurity—you have a lot to do before the end of the administration.
I’m not bored. Not bored at all.
In terms of the safety improvements autonomous cars might offer, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind has said of which autonomous vehicles need to be twice as not bad. Do you agree with of which, along with also what’s the timetable for autonomous cars going coming from twice as not bad as human drivers to truly helping get toward of which zero number?
We wouldn’t be in This particular conversation if we didn’t think there were safety advantages. We do believe the autonomous vehicle can be safer than the human-operated car. however we also have to remember This particular is actually a nascent area, along with also of which in order to capture those advantages, we have to set the right level between safety culture along with also innovation. along with also frankly, we don’t think those two things are inconsistent with each additional. of which’s why our guidelines set out to be more directional than prescriptive, along with also I think as the area matures along with also we know more about what works along with also what doesn’t work, we’ll begin answering some of the questions people want to see more clarity around.
The not bad thing about the guidelines is actually, they’ve focused the conversation. We’re no longer talking in platitudes. We’re currently saying, ‘What does data sharing mean, along with also how can of which actually occur? What information is actually proprietary along with also confidential business information of which my company doesn’t want to share? What information actually might be useful for my company to have shared anonymously among folks within the industry, along with also how can the industry come together on cyber security?’ of which will be a huge issue in This particular area—along with also privacy as well. So I think we’ve laid the table properly along with also the conversation will evolve. Mostly, I think, our job right currently is actually to context set, in order of which the safety culture is actually infused at the beginning along with also to give people a sense of where our heads are. Hopefully, of which will fill the vacuum enough to continue seeing innovation occur.
The guidelines address vehicles, however how do they address vulnerable road users? The Trolley Question seems particularly relevant, since one automaker went on record saying of which its self-driving systems will prioritize vehicle occupants over pedestrians.
One of the things we’ve flagged within the guidelines is actually ethical challenges. One of the things I will do before I leave the department is actually to set up an ongoing advisory council to the secretary of which will keep questions like of which in front of us. We don’t know the answers right currently. A particular any may have a particular view, however we’re going to have a view, I suspect, over time. of which has to be thought about very carefully, along with also I want to create an advisory council of which brings together competencies in a wide range of areas. We hear a lot about labor-market disruption, along with also I want a voice of which helps us think through ethics—not as a decider, however as a vehicle to help us place those discussions in their proper context. I think, over time, we’ll answer them. however as I said, there are questions we can answer today, right currently, along with also some of which will have to gestate for a while.
During your time with the DOT, you’ve addressed everything coming from urban planning, with the Every Place Counts design challenge, to artificial intelligence here in Pittsburgh. Has the scope of This particular job changed dramatically? What advice do you have for your successor going forward?
Fundamental questions about transportation needed to be asked. How is actually transportation helping us deal with the increased social along with also economic divide in This particular country? What are we going to do about massive population shifts into highly constrained urban areas? How can technology be harnessed to help us build a better future? We’ve asked fundamental questions, along with also we’ve begun answering many of them. Hopefully, we’re on This particular unalterable course toward a future of which will help us achieve some of This particular. I don’t know whether we created an inflection point in transportation or whether the inflection point happened. however we had to do something different.
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Getting a surface transportation bill was not bad, along with also the item provided a floor of funding, so there’s more certainty. What the item truly did was give cities like Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Denver, Austin, along with also Columbus a chance to breathe along with also say, ‘There’s a floor, along with also currently we have to imagine where the ceiling is actually.’ of which’s where the real transformative stuff is actually, along with also I like to think of which we’ve taken This particular [functional] subject along with also made the item relevant to the big questions the country is actually facing.