AUSTIN, TX – At the recent South by Southwest conference, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announces the formation of a new DOT body to tackle regulation of emerging forms of mobility proliferating on streets, sidewalks, in the skies and underground.
The DOT’s Nontraditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council will work with companies developing and deploying new technologies ranging from autonomous vehicles to hyperloop trains to streamline regulation and speed adoption of new mobility innovations.
A DOT news release says the council will operate as an “internal deliberative body … tasked with identifying and resolving jurisdictional and regulatory gaps that may impede the deployment of new technology.” It says the council already has held its first organizing meeting to address “tunneling technologies seeking various approvals in several states.”
“What’s going on in transportation technology is nothing short of stunning,” Chao says during a SXSW session titled New Initiatives on Emerging Transportation Technologies. She adds that “21st century technology can’t be regulated using 20th century policy.”
The council will establish federal policy jurisdiction when a technology such as hyperloop trains or flying cars don’t fit into existing regulatory classifications among the DOT’s 11 administrations. “As the world changes, traditional silos don’t work for the benefit of the public or innovators,” Chao remarks.
Chao acknowledges “inventors and investors don’t know which agency to deal with within the DOT – and sometimes the department doesn’t know, either.” Chao describes how it’s unclear, for example, which agency oversees hyperloop technology.
“Is it a rail or transit tunnel?” she asks. “It used to be a train was a train and fit into simple categories.”
Similar questions, Chao notes, pertain to air taxis being proposed by Uber and others. “Cross-modal transportation options require a new approach by DOT,” she says. “We need to not approach it ad hoc and make sure not to impede progress.”
The council is designed for developers of new technology to have “a single access point, a one-stop shop for innovators,” Chao says. She also notes many of the companies developing cutting-edge transportation options are startups that don’t take regulation into consideration.
“As they become successful, they realized they need to work with D.C.,” she says. “They need to work with us and we need to work with them.”