Top Five Trends in Transportation Innovation – in Austin and Beyond

Sometimes we like to geek out about transportation over here at Movability Austin. And we think that right now is a pretty exciting time in the world of transportation innovation! Most people are beginning to recognize that we can’t afford the maintenance for existing highways, much less building of new highways, so assuming everyone will drive alone is no longer an answer that works well in our (and most other) large urban areas. Creative thinkers, tech enthusiasts, lawmakers, transportation experts and public officials have begun to realize this. But most commuters haven’t. We are only beginning to see the shifts that are coming in the way people travel. Here’s our roundup of five worldwide trends, big and small, to watch right now – and how Austin measures up.

  1. Self-Driving Cars Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 11.28.49 AM

Self-driving cars have captured our collective imagination for a long time. In 2014 they crossed from concept to reality as Google released its prototype. It’s too early to know how self-driving cars will integrate into our transportation system, but there are plenty of predictions (pro and con) out there about the big changes this kind of technology could mean for congestion and land planning.

  1. High Speed Rail

This isn’t news in Asia, but high-speed rail is shiny and new in the United States. We’re not talking about Amtrak here…you can expect a bullet train to zip by at about 150 mph, and not have to slide aside for freight traffic, either. Just last week, a high speed rail line between Los Angeles and California ceremonially broke ground in Fresno, CA. Construction has also begun on a Miami-Orlando line in Florida. Texas isn’t too far behind – a private company has been shopping around high speed rail connecting Dallas and Houston.

  1. Vision Zero

Vision Zero is a bold plan to eliminate traffic-related fatalities for everyone. In the U.S., New York City took the lead in this initiative, setting an example by taking steps such as greatly reducing speed limits. The Austin City Council has also taken the first step toward achieving this vision by forming a task force to explore how it could be implemented in Central Texas.

  1. Smartphone Fare Cards

How many payment applications do you have on your smartphone? Maybe Google Wallet, Paypal, or even a digital Starbucks gift card? Popular payment formats have evolved from cash to credit cards to, now, smartphones. This is happening in transportation, too, and Austin is a great example. The Capital Metro app (for iPhone and Android) allows you to purchase and use transit passes directly from your phone. No need for Austin commuters to count quarters!

  1. Transportation Network Companies

The “sharing economy” was a big 2014 buzzword. This includes companies like AirBNB, Uber, Lyft, Spinlister, and other peer-to-peer services. These services often begin informally, working outside of standard regulations until the network becomes too big to ignore. That’s exactly what has happened to Uber and Lyft in cities across the country, and Austin is no exception. Now, cities are struggling with how to make these transportation options safe and legal, without losing the informal, peer-to-peer characteristics that made them attractive in the first place.

As a hub of tech innovation, Austin can expect to be the birthplace of many new transportation experiments in the coming year. And since just building more roads can’t get us out of our mobility mess, we are going to have to get pretty creative. If you want to know more about the new direction of transportation, check out some other big trends that Let’s Go News has already covered.

What’s your best idea for a 2015 transportation innovation?

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