Information Technology Making Mean Streets Less Mean

Jim Irwin, Associate Editor

August 10, 2015

3 Min Read
Information Technology Making Mean Streets Less Mean

Information technology will make getting from Point A to Point B in increasingly congested cities manageable, with or without one’s own car, experts say.

While private vehicle ownership is not particularly desirable in urban environments, it can be managed economically and integrated into shared modes of transportation, a panel of specialists in urban mobility say during a recent online roundtable.

‟It used to be (that) transportation was just about bricks and mortar, big transportation infrastructure,“ says Sue Zielinski, director of the Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transfomation program at the University of Michigan. ‟Now you have that nimbleness that is enabled by information technology.

‟Whereas before you had a road, you had a bus, you had a bicycle, now you can combine all those things using information technology (to) get off the bus, take a ride-sharing vehicle, get off the car share, take a free bicycle, get onto the train from there, all using information apps, using pricing apps, using fair-payment apps, all coming together in something of a seamless whole.

‟What that means is (transportation) is much more affordable and it’s actually much easier to plan,” Zielinski says. ‟We can already see what’s there in the city...and to make that possible sometimes even without good policy, without good leadership or even good land use.”

Information technology already is fundamental for ride-sharing providers such as Uber, Lyft and Zipcar and even bicycle-renting schemes. This transportation ‟sharing economy” will curtail the number of vehicles on city streets, says Joe Averkamp, senior director-technology, policy and technical strategy for Xerox, today a leading global provider of transportation services to governments.

More people working, shopping and studying from home doesn’t seamlessly translate into smooth sailing on city streets, the experts say.

But with motorists simply looking for a place to park accounting for 30% of urban traffic congestion, Averkamp says, instant information about parking availability and cost can provide instant relief for drivers of connected cars.

The shared economy of transportation is especially important to millennials populating cities, says Robert Puentes, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Institution Infrastructure Initiative. ‟There’s something different about millennials’ choices that we have to recognize,” he says. ‟If it’s cheap, reliable and predictable they’ll take it.”

Urban mobility isn’t limited to a single demographic, Zielinski notes.

‟If you can have what you want when you want, of course that fits the new millennial culture,” she says. ‟But (shared, connected transportation) is also really showing to meet the same kinds of needs for seniors and the urban poor.”

To Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, ‟Our policies that encourage car ownership are the real problem.” Shoup and several other panelists advocate  what he calls ‟price therapy,” a combination of tolls and use-based fees and not limited to taxes on vehicle ownership.

Puentes offers a radical suggestion for curtailing private-vehicle dependency not tied directly to urban-mobility concerns: reforming the  tax deduction for home-mortgage interest ‟so we’re not subsidizing larger, more expensive homes generally located far out on the suburban fringe.”

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