Monday, January 27, 2014

What will be the next big thing to change transportation forever?

This year will be the “tipping point” for the Internet and technology, according to Yahoo’s Chief Executive, Marissa Mayer.  During last week’s World Economic Forum,  Mayer said fundamental things are happening that are changing the way people live and work in ways we wouldn’t have deemed possible a few years ago.   This got us to thinking about some emerging technologies that you might not expect to change transportation in the future, but have potential to do so.  Check them out.

3D Printing.  The ability to print, customized items quickly, or 3D printing, has the potential to “monumentally” change how goods are moved around the world, according the UPS.  How?  

“A proportion of goods which were previously produced in China or other Asia markets could be ‘near-sourced’ to North America and Europe,” according to an excerpt of the report published by smartplanet. “This would reduce shipping and air cargo volumes.”

Transportation implications: Eliminating the supply chain between businesses and manufactures would generate tremendous transportation cost savings for companies. And decreasing the amount of heavy trucks transporting freight on U.S. highways would help reduce maintenance costs.  But, it would also reduce revenues if there are fewer trucks paying motor fuel taxes—the main funding source for transportation infrastructure.  

Lending your car to strangers for cash.  More people are utilizing companies like RelayRides, Getaround and JustShareIt to earn some extra cash by lending their cars to strangers.  These companies create online social networks to connect people in need of a car with those nearby who aren’t using theirs.  These companies offer lower rates than rental car companies. 

Transportation implications:  Reducing the cost of renting a car could be enticing to some people who currently rely on public transit services to get to where they need to go and thus decrease transit ridership.  In the United States, there’s currently one car per 1.2 people.  Imagine if this trend reduced the amount of vehicles and we actually returned to the days when there were more licensed drivers than licensed vehicles.  This would have revenue implications as vehicle registration fees make up a significant portion of transportation funding—12 percent in Kansas.

Drone Delivery.  Amazon made headlines in December when it announced plans to build a fleet of drones that would be able to deliver goods to customers’ doors within thirty minutes of when they place their orders.

Transportation implications:  This has the potential to reduce the amount of trucks on highways and streets, which has pros and cons in terms of transportation policy.  The FAA is currently developing rules for the use of commercial drones—as there are many safety related issues with this that would have to be addressed before it could come to fruition.  In addition to safety concerns, policy makers will need to think about privacy concerns of citizens and the legality of flying drones over private property.

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