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The Internet of Transportation

A driver named Pat

The surge of interest in the smart city has brought transportation professionals into closer contact with information technology companies that participate in something called “the Internet of things”. This is sometimes referred to as IoT. The whole concept of IOT is to widen and enhance our current Internet, which connects computers together, to a wider network that connects all sorts of devices together. Those devices could include roadside sensors, vehicles acting as probes, domestic appliances and smart phones. This was brought to life for me by Dan Teeter, director – vehicle connected services for Nissan. Dan summarized the impact of IOT with the following description of a typical day in the life of an IOT citizen:

“A driver named Pat drives to work in his autonomous car. His smart watch and seat belt sensor detect that his blood pressure and heart rate are elevated, so the car switches to soothing music and a back rub. Arriving at work, the car drops Pat off and proceeds on its own to a prepaid parking spot. It asks the home refrigerator to check for healthy food, and finding none, it places an order with a local health food store. When Pat decides to clock out early, the car alerts a connected thermostat to start cooling his house earlier than usual. The car figures out the best route home. It automatically pays tolls along the way. And it plays a comedy movie on Pat’s screen to help him relax”

This could be perceived as the ultimate in living assistance or perhaps as “RoboNanny” with a claustrophobic approach to controlling your life. Like any technologies, the Internet of Things can be applied for good or bad. I am often reminded when conducting do-it-yourself projects that an electric drill can both drill holes and find hidden electrical wires.

Wider possibilities

The kind of possibilities that can be provided by the IOT enabling much wider connectivity than we have seen so far. The IOT can also support a much closer integration between transportation services and other services for lifestyle support and enhancement. It would seem to me that effective use of IOT technologies from a transportation perspective, would also require that we address the question of connectivity between transportation elements. It could be difficult to integrate the Internet of Things into transportation, if in fact transportation consisted of a series of independent islands.

Internet of Transportation

Very often a technology breakthrough gains momentum when a single label is defined that captures the popular imagination, such as the Internet of Things. I thought it might be helpful if we applied this technique to transportation and defined our own single label – “the Internet of Transportation”. So, what would the Internet of Transportation include? Here are a few ideas.

An integrated citywide payment system, would in my opinion, be an essential ingredient of the Internet of transportation. This would support payment for tolls, transit ticketing and car parking, making use of a single account with multiple payment instruments. Transponders could continue to be used for electronic toll collection, while a combination of smart cards smart phone payment apps could be used for transit ticketing and car parking. A single account structure would enable conditional discounts along the basis of “if you did this, then that, then you get the following discounted price”

Integrated Transportation Management

My second candidate for the Internet of transportation would be an integrated citywide transportation management system. This would address freeways, arterials, transit and nonmotorized modes of transportation. All modes would be managed in a coordinated manner, according to predefined performance measures, making use of big data and analytics to support effective management. This could also include crowdsourcing of data from smart phone applications to supplement existing data sources.

Smart retail

My next candidate for the Internet of transportation would be a smart retail approach that combines data that is currently being used to optimize retail operations, with data regarding the supply and demand for transportation. This post together several pieces drawn from the private sector and from the public sector to address the general objectives of making the retail process more efficient and the supporting transportation service delivery more coordinated.

Smart Education

Even this preliminary definition of the Internet of transportation would not be complete without consideration of what I would call “Smart Education”. There is no question the educational activities have a substantial impact on the demand for transportation. Here in the US, you only need to observe the difference in traffic and congestion when schools and colleges are on vacation. Smart education would integrate data regarding school and college curricula, was transportation supply and demand data, to gain a better understanding of how to manage the education driven demand for transportation. This could also address the optimization of movement within campuses, while also impacting student safety and security.

Mobility as a Service

My final candidate for the Internet of transportation would be a Mobility as a Service approach. This would enable travelers to choose from a portfolio of transportation services provided by both the public and private sector. Information would be provided regarding the choices, the travel times and reliability involved and the cost of travel.


This is a first attempt at the definition of the Internet of Transportation and is by no means complete. The intention is to provide a description of the overall concept by explaining the examples quoted above and not a complete catalog. Of course, the examples quoted can also be provided within an integrated framework that sets the scene for a true Internet of Transportation. This also paves the way for integrating transportation with other lifestyle services within a larger Internet of Things.

I would also expect that as well as providing an integrated approach to the Internet of Transportation and the Internet of Things, that we will also address the question of integrated governance of transportation. The establishment of clear objectives for each individual mode and for the entire city would be the starting point for integrated governance. This would be supported by an organizational alignment of the various participants in transportation service delivery. This does not mean that we need to adopt a unitary authority approach to transportation, rather it involves the harmonization and coordination of the efforts of the various agencies involved.

If you were to take a purely systems approach to transportation, then you could define the following four levels of integration:

  • Level I, conflict

  • Level II, peaceful coexistence

  • Level III data sharing

  • Level IV, mutual co-dependence

Level I is characterized by conflicting objectives and perhaps even by investment programs that do not reinforce each other.

Level II involves an awareness across and between each entity responsible for transportation within the city and perhaps cooperation on objective setting and operations

level III involves the sharing of data between different entities and the recognition that pooling data resources and perhaps other resources supports faster progress

level IV represents the ultimate in integration when processes and systems exist within one entity to support the needs of another

From a system engineering perspective, you would expect that we all share the desire to achieve level IV. However, there are some practical reasons which make level for very difficult to achieve. Each agency responsible for delivering transportation within the city, expects to be able to apply policies and act without the need to seek permission from other agencies. This kind of “sovereign autonomy” is crucial to effective and efficient operation. I have come to the realization that perhaps the goal, given this practical constraint, is somewhere between Level III and level IV. This would feature the sharing of data and other resources, while enabling each agency to preserve its autonomy.

A school of fish

The best analogy I can think of is a group of agencies swimming like a school of fish. Each fish has its own intelligence and ability to decide and the swim together as a shoal for mutual benefit. Perhaps this is the real benefit of the Internet of transportation and the Internet of things. Strong conductivity between agencies and groups can support the kind of sophisticated relationship that gets the best from the technology while avoiding the undesirable side effects related to governance.


The Internet of Things will have a significant impact on transportation. We will be presented with both challenges and opportunities related to transportation connectivity and the establishment of effective partnerships between the public and private sector. It is also obvious that our transportation customers will be continue to be significantly influenced by private sector actions that go well beyond transportation. The possibilities are amazing and if history is anything to go by we will navigate the challenges and develop new approaches to transportation service delivery that harness the new possibilities. If fish can do it, then it should also be within our capability.

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