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A new wave of technological change in transportation

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From social media to intelligent transportation systems, technology is rapidly changing the transportation landscape to create "new mobility"—a trend that was the focus of Elizabeth Deakin's luncheon presentation at the 24th Annual CTS Transportation Research Conference.

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"New mobility isn't just about moving people—it is integrating new technologies and new ways of delivering sustainable transportation services that gives people access to more goods, services, and opportunities," said Deakin, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley.

A number of transportation trends fall under the definition of new mobility, Deakin said, including car sharing, bike sharing, carpooling, smart transit, smart cars, and smart highways. Importantly, while these new mobility approaches have typically been used in urban areas, many of the ideas—such as car sharing, ride sharing, and bike sharing—can work in rural settings as well.

The reasons for the growing interest in new mobility are diverse. From a government perspective, it can enhance mobility, save money, reduce congestion, decrease environmental impacts, and improve public health. For users, it creates more transportation options, greater flexibility and affordability, and health benefits while promoting environmental and social responsibility.

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One of the driving forces behind the shift toward new mobility appears to be Millennials—the generation of 20-somethings that grew up building online communities through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Today, they are using social and mobile technology to build communities in the real world—and transportation is no exception. Dynamic ride sharing is just one example: commuters use their smartphones or tablets to request or offer a ride on the fly; the device's GPS navigation capability is used to arrange the ride's pick-up and drop-off points. "We've also seen an increasing interest in services where users create a network of friends and offer dynamic ride sharing only to that known group," Deakin said.

Another growing carpooling trend is "casual carpooling," in which drivers pick up passengers from established locations to share a ride without an ongoing arrangement. "It's sort of like hitchhiking but more organized," Deakin said. "The benefit is that adding riders qualifies the car for HOV lanes and saves everyone significant time off their commute."

New mobility may also change our transportation system's future. Transit will likely get a boost from new technologies that improve travel times with exclusive lanes, signal preemption, off-board fare payment, and more. On the highway, the use of sensors to monitor traffic and control flows will help the whole system run more smoothly; vehicle-highway communication and vehicle sensors will improve safety.

According to Deakin, the move toward new mobility may be a way to bring together diverse views of transportation's future. "One vision of the future is cities that are transit-oriented, while others envision a new world of vehicles that basically drive themselves. New mobility may be the way we integrate those two visions by matching them to the local context to create a transportation system that goes beyond a one-size-fits-all approach."

Reprinted from CTS Catalyst, July 2013.

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