• Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Preparing for Modernization in the Transportation Workforce

The U.S. government is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize the nation’s transportation infrastructure, making it safer and more sustainable. But making the best use of modern digital technologies requires a properly trained transportation workforce.

Digital technologies are now woven into the evolution of transportation.

“The car of the future is a computer on wheels,” says Doug Couto, senior fellow with the Center for Digital Government* (CDG) and formerly Michigan’s chief information officer. In the years ahead, intelligent technology will play a bigger role in how all vehicles operate.

The main reason for this shift is safety. “In 2021, we had 43,000 people die on highways,” Couto says. “A computer that runs an autonomous vehicle doesn’t stay at the bar until 2 a.m. and drive home drunk. It’s that simple.”

TRENDS IN TRANSPORTATION

Major trends in the digitization of transportation include:

Connected vehicles. Drivers are already using smartphones and onboard navigation systems to optimize travel. The next phase could help vehicles communicate with external sources such as sensors, vendors and other vehicles.

Predictive analytics. Sensor data and learning algorithms will increasingly help transportation planners optimize travel patterns, reducing congestion and improving the travel experience.

Electrification. The rising popularity of battery-electric vehicles will require a network of public chargers that must be implemented, maintained and optimized.

Autonomy. Experiments are producing intriguing results in self-driving cars, trucks, taxis and other vehicles. While full autonomy is probably several years away, vehicle manufacturers will continue to add driver-assistance features that will influence how people travel.

Travel as a service. Bike-sharing, scooter rentals and other micromobility options will require regulatory oversight and safety reviews.

Biometrics. Facial recognition and fingerprint scanning can enhance the security of transportation systems.

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE

Transportation agency executives and managers must prepare their workforces for technologies that are transforming transportation.

“Making sure employees understand the safety protocols and best practices for adoption of these technologies will be paramount to success,” says Kristin Hempstead, North American business development manager for data science with Z by HP. She suggests data science training programs that include:

  • Online and in-person data science training courses tailored to employees’ responsibilities  
  • Mentorship programs that help staff learn directly from experienced practitioners  
  • Data science laboratories to foster collaboration and experimentation  

SOFTWARE PLAYS A KEY ROLE

Transportation agency workforces will increasingly deal with sophisticated vehicle systems, as well as applications that automate internal tasks and workflows.

Process automation. Transportation staffers often perform time-consuming manual tasks like data entry and regulatory reviews that can be simplified and streamlined through robotic process automation. Moreover, low-/no-code software applications can help managers and staff create their own automations to remove bottlenecks.

Security. Every vehicle, camera, sensor and networking device is a potential entry point for cyber attacks. Transportation staff will need to understand the threats to their networks and implement effective defense techniques.

AI/ML. Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms are the true frontier of transportation planning and operations. With AI/ML, vehicles will need less human intervention. We’re already seeing driverless taxi programs in select cities and experiments with long-haul trucking on interstates.

“Transportation agencies must prepare for the implications of AI/ML,” Hempstead says. “That includes creating infrastructure to accommodate automated vehicles, developing safety regulations and creating policies for the safe integration of AI/ML into the transportation landscape.”

MAINTAINING NEXT-GENERATION EQUIPMENT AND HARDWARE

The devices that automate and electrify transportation will require new competencies for transportation professionals.

Sensors. Traffic cameras detect when drivers run red lights. Sensors along expressways can monitor traffic patterns and send real-time alerts for congestion and accidents. These devices are prone to wear and tear and must be kept secure.

Vehicles. “The adoption of electric vehicles is a promising green initiative,” Hempstead says. But she notes many questions are unanswered. Electrifying our vehicle fleet will require a massive investment in charging stations. The $7.5 billion in federal funding for these stations is a good start, but it does pose new challenges. For instance, how do we ensure charging access in rural areas?

Wireless networking. With 5G mobile networks expanding wireless bandwidth, vehicles will become increasingly interconnected. Sensor networks will generate data that allow vehicles to operate more safely, and vehicles will transmit telemetry data to networks and nearby vehicles. This abundance of real-time data will help leaders make better decisions that improve travel outcomes.

Technology infrastructure and devices. The three tiers of a data center — compute, storage and networks — will remain the bedrock of transportation technology. Many workloads will move to the cloud for agility, economy and scale. Virtualization will make device management more flexible and efficient.

FUTURE-PROOFING THE TRANSPORTATION WORKFORCE

Transportation agencies must stay ahead of evolving technologies. Workforces will need to acquire new skills as agencies automate everyday tasks and increase their use of data science and analytics-driven decision-making.

Agencies also must ensure employees have the right computing devices to get their work done now and in the future. Hempstead’s advice: “Make sure they have enough performance and power, whether it be with a GPU or a higher-core processor or more memory or more storage. Make sure they are as productive as possible throughout a three- to five-year refresh cycle.”

This article is excerpted from the new Government Technology thought leadership paper, “Modernizing the Transportation Workforce: Enhancing Public Sector Skills for Automation and Electrification.” Click here to download the full paper. 

*Note: The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.


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