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How Will Transportation Tech Evolve Over the Next Decade?

Electrification, congestion pricing and how streets are used could all greatly influence the future of transportation in cities, say speakers at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo.

Smart Cities Transportation Panel 10-21-2021.jpg
From left, Jordan Davis, executive director of Smart Columbus; Micah Kotch, managing director of URBAN-X; and Stacey Matlen, director of innovation programs at Partnership for New York City.
(Skip Descant/Government Technology)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Longer-range and longer-lasting electric car batteries. Congestion pricing that can provide a regular funding stream for public transit. More flexible ideas about how to use public rights of way. All of these ideas factored into what watchers of transportation innovation hope, and expect, to see in the next five to 10 years.

“In the next five years we’ll see million-mile electric vehicle batteries. I think that is very realistic,” said Micah Kotch, managing director of URBAN-X, at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo yesterday.

Kotch also predicts more innovation around electric grid management, with renewable sources of energy and electric vehicles playing a role in the management of electricity through vehicle-to-grid developments.

“Vehicle-to-grid makes a ton of sense,” Kotch said. “Because cars are parked 90 percent of the time. The battery can be connected to the grid, and we can actually use the battery to offer some services back to the grid.”

Jordan Davis, executive director of Smart Columbus, remarked she was 100 percent certain that this is the "decade for EVs."

“In the next three years, I think there is going to have to be a lot of alignment across [political] parties, a commitment to making things real. Because OEMs, like Ford, have already decided,” Davis said.

It’s not just the rapid electrification of transportation. Watch for major policy changes in cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are exploring the concept of road usage charges — otherwise known as congestion pricing. The money earned from congestion pricing could be directed toward the sustained solvency of public transit systems.

“We’ve been fighting this fight for 20 years,” said Stacey Matlen, director of innovation programs at Partnership for New York City, about the proposal to charge drivers entering certain parts of Manhattan.

Matlen added that the proposal appears to be going through the final stages of a community review board.

Transit systems across the country are looking to the proposed infrastructure bill — currently stalled in Congress — as a crucial funding source for modernization and other projects. However, the bill would provide one-time money, said Matlen, and transit needs more sources of regular, sustainable funding, which congestion pricing could provide while also helping to reduce car use and the emissions that go along with them.

“The infrastructure bill, if and when it gets passed, is an amazing thing we can have to start the conversation, but it’s not enough," said Matlen, adding that congestion alone costs New York City $20 billion a year in lost economic activity.

If streets are able to ever get less car-focused, watch for them to begin functioning as public spaces in far more dynamic and humane ways, said Kotch, as he pointed to a recent study by the Regional Plan Association, which covers the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metropolitan areas. The study urges the new administration in New York City to give more attention to streets as arteries for transit vehicles like buses as well as bikes.

Streets should also play a role in “commerce and neighborhood vitality" with things like outdoor dining, Kotch said, and they should also be designed to serve the environment in the form of bioswales.

“So again, really think holistically about those three interlocking systems and empower city agencies to make some significant changes to our physical infrastructure, to our codes,” said Kotch.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.