Vision about the role of transportation infrastructures in today’s world  

Tarija, Bolivia.

This time, it is my pleasure to talk with my partner at S3Transportation, Jose F. Papi, who also happens to serve as Chairman of the recently-created Smart Transportation Alliance (STA). He is going to talk with us about his vision of the transport infrastructures of the future, in particular about how they should be funded. He will also offer some tips to emerging countries on how to address the development of their transport networks. Enjoy it!!

  1. Why a new organisation in the international transport arena? Aren’t there too many?

Following discussions that date back to April 2012, a number of transport stakeholders came to realise that launching a global collaborative platform for transportation infrastructure innovation was much needed. Let me explain you the rationale behind that statement.The Smart Transportation Alliance (STA) was born in December 2014 with the objective of leading and supporting a range of activities improving the methods.Several international organisations are acting as knowledge centres for the transport sector – the International Transportation Forum (ITF), the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and others -, but there is an obvious gap when it comes to promote knowledge transfer around a concept that we have named the ’Smart Transportation Infrastructure’, the transportation infrastructure of the future. In our opinion, the Smart Transportation Infrastructures that serve to connect people and businesses across the world should become a 21st century brand such as the ‘Smart Cities’ one. Without them, no socioeconomic development is possible.

With that vision in mind, the Smart Transportation Alliance (STA) was born in December 2014 with the objective of leading and supporting a range of activities improving the methods, technologies and standards associated to transportation infrastructures.  I am very satisfied that, in just four months since its incorporation, thousands of newsletter subscribers and webpage visits prove that we were not wrong.

  1. Which is STA’s vision about the role of transportation infrastructures in today’s world?

It might sound a recurring expression, but in STA we believe that transportation infrastructures should become ‘smarter’. In the context of a safe, sustainable and integrated transportation system, there is little doubt that transportation infrastructures are at the heart of the ‘Smart Mobility’ era. Infrastructures are a key player in a changing world, a world that is increasingly becoming more competitive and cohesive every day. First, transportation infrastructures must move people and goods faster, seamlessly and in a convenient way.

Other challenges are crucial, but we cannot forget about this primary challenge, which is fundamental to our societal welfare. With some minor geographical exceptions, in general people and goods will be moving around the globe further and faster. Roads being the essential link in the modal chain, transportation systems will become fully integrated and intermodal, allowing travellers and freight to switch seamlessly between modes and across borders. station-752147_1280All major airports and seaports will connect to the rail network; intermodal terminals for passenger and freight should be ‘smartly’ designed and equipped accordingly. In the case of freight, cooperative systems, seamless trans-shipment and smart route design will lead to the sector´s optimisation.

Second, we need intelligent infrastructures that are able to process the vast amount of information collected in real time and to use it to provide the most effective transportation services to businesses and citizens alike. Thanks to recent technological innovations, such as remote sensing, advance analytics, automated operations, crowdsourcing and integrated scheduling and control, traditional “bricks” infrastructure can now be used more effectively, and therefore operated and maintained more efficiently.   Third, the transportation of the future relies on the development and operation of safe and secure transportation infrastructures. Innovation efforts can lead the way to reducing transportation mortality and injury rates, with a special eye on vulnerable users and on the importance of decreasing the degree of vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters.

And last but not least, transportation networks must satisfy high mobility demands, but at the same time must do it with the lowest possible energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Several solutions are coming to the rescue; yet their widespread market uptake is much needed: energy-harvesting infrastructures, re-use and recycling of construction materials, self-healing and self-cleaning technologies, etc.

  1. Your words bring up a question to my mind: how are we going to fund the infrastructures you have just described?

Well, transportation investments must also be ‘smart’. Today many public infrastructure agencies have outmoded governance structures and procedures, as they are still subject to political influence and weighed down by bureaucracy.   Management tools should support project delivery, as well as smart governance tools to analyse the positions of the stakeholders affected and find integrated solutions.

Sophisticated and innovative procurement should be developed, accompanied by adequate monitoring systems, contracting and tendering methods. Coordination across assets and different levels of national, regional and local government should be secured, as well as implementing capacity building programmes that support both public authorities responsible for the provision of services and transport operators. euro-447214_1280

Prioritising infrastructure projects in a robust and bankable project pipeline, accelerating the project preparation process, and selecting the most adequate project delivery model, are some examples of ingredients for a cost-effective recipe. Streamlining the delivery of construction plans, by means of, for instance, establishing comprehensive digital data documenting the full history of an infrastructure, has not yet been adopted by most transport agencies across the world…   I am aware that transportation competes with health care, sanitation, education, debt service, and numerous other high-priority areas for public funds, leading to the lack of funds allocated to its purposes.

Today it is irrefutable that attracting the private sector is also fundamental to make the most of new and existing transportation infrastructure assets.

  1. Can you please describe how will STA specifically support the emergence of a new generation of transportation infrastructures?

STA has put in motion a very ambitious work plan for 2015; I invite the sector to visit www.smart-transportation.org regularly and to subscribe for free to STA’s weekly and monthly newsletters to monitor closely how this work plan progresses week by week.   The 2015 STA Annual Conference will offer an innovative and informative review of the current state of deployment of Smart Transportation Infrastructures connecting people and businesses.To cut a long story short, STA has started to promote stakeholder cooperation by means of the operation of a range of STA Technical Committees & Sub-Committees, which will serve as a platform for the release of technical and scientific publications of relevance to the Smart Transportation Infrastructures of the Future. At the same time, STA is promoting joint R&D and innovation projects and events for knowledge sharing and networking.  

For instance, the 2016 STA Annual Conference will offer an innovative and informative review of the current state of deployment of Smart Transportation Infrastructures connecting people and businesses. The event will take place in Brussels (Belgium) on Wednesday 3 February 2016 and will provide a unique opportunity to learn, reflect and engage with decision-makers and practitioners from around the world. 

The meeting will be further coupled with the award ceremony of the 1st edition of the ‘STA Annual Innovation Awards’. I look forward to welcoming you on that occasion.

  1. Which would be your recommendations to emerging countries that are currently developing a modern transportation network?

As I said before, investments must also be smart: they should be spread across transport modes, and in addition based not only on traffic engineering principles, but also on the specific needs of users and the spatial and economic characteristics of a given region. In short, making the most from the funds invested.   Several studies have shown the positive effect of infrastructure on the national economy: depending on the current infrastructure stock, a 1% increase in infrastructure assets boosts gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.05% to 0.25% in the long term.  statistics-706384_1280

However, while building new infrastructure assets ranks high on the global agenda, operations and maintenance remain as a pending matter. It is crucial to increase the assets´ productivity and longevity, and therefore, against the backdrop of increasing user demand, constrained financing and an ageing asset base, I am of the opinion that it is imperative for governments to make the most of their existing infrastructure assets by implementing the most innovative operations and maintenance best practices.  

I also take the opportunity to announce that before the end of the year STA will be unveiling a ‘Global Smart Transportation Index’ that will rank the efforts and progress made by each country in this field. Stay tuned…

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