Technology & Innovation

Cross-Cutting Topics Embrace Uncertainty

lightbulb with gears

What’s the problem?

Government process and programs are out of sync with private- sector deployment of transportation technologies. This creates uncertainties for both public and private sectors with potential implications for the traveling public and broader societal goals.

Why is this important?

Transportation technology has the potential to dramatically improve our transportation system and to spawn new industries with wide-ranging benefits. Without public input and guidance though, the benefits from those private sector advances are likely to accrue to limited pockets of major urban areas and leave Washington’s other communities behind. Independent actions on the part of jurisdictions and coalitions are working to fill the void of guidance and leadership. This has been good up to now but more government engagement is necessary.

Technology has already changed how we think about transportation—how we travel, how we get things, how we pay to get from here to there.

Technology has great potential to make our system safer than it is today, more efficient, more reliable, cleaner, and more accessible. At the same time, it has great potential to undermine societal goals for more equitable access and economic opportunity. It can increase economic divides between those with the means to access new technologies and services, and those without the means. If not well managed, technology can result in higher levels of congestion, inefficiency, and pollution, not lower levels. There are questions to answer and opportunities to harness. We’re in new territory. That’s why it’s a good time to focus on the role of technology and think about how we’re going to maximize the upsides and minimize the downsides for all of Washington.

New Mobility.

A generation of Washingtonians is coming of age now having grown up with ‘Mobility as a Service’ that enables people to hail a ride with Lyft or Uber and pay for it from the convenience of an app on their smartphones. For an increasing number of us this is now a ‘traditional’ travel option in the same way that getting a license and driving was for previous generations. Connected and autonomous vehicle technology holds out promise for greater safety and system efficiency, but it’s too soon to tell whether it will generate a net benefit for mobility, the environment, and community livability or whether unintended consequences will undermine broad societal objectives.

Government was on the sidelines for much of the last decade while transformative technologies and private data-driven information centers were developed and deployed in Washington and across the country. Individual agencies are reckoning with questions regarding big data and data privacy absent clear-cut guidance on best practices. Government has some catching up to do.

The Risk of Innovation.

What’s our game plan? What does a policy framework for cooperative, automated transportation look like for Washington state? We need a collaborative framework that helps us to objectively consider the benefits and risks so that government can, in the face of rapid change and uncertainty, make the best decisions to meet our evolving mobility needs. We want to harness technology and innovation to close the gaps in access and services, enhancing our multimodal transportation system and the livability of our communities while making mobility as efficient, safe, and cost-effective as possible.

We’re challenged to adapt our institutional decision-making processes to respond to these 21st century decisions and expand our thinking beyond the traditional roles and opportunities for public-private partnerships. Government must work to find win-win strategies that work for all and not just a few.

“Nimble” is not an adjective often used to describe the way transportation decisions are made in the public-sector, but that is an imperative going forward.


We don’t have all the answers we need, but it’s time to get in the game.

The time to act is now. Without deliberate actions, rural Washington will be left behind in this new era of mobility. Urban initiatives are already underway in central Puget Sound, initiated by the private sector. State, regional, and local governments, transit agencies, ports, and business leaders have a shared interest in ensuring that technological advances in mobility contribute to a safer and more efficient transportation system that supports our economic, social, and environmental objectives across the state.


Cooperative Automated Transportation

Cooperative Automated Transportation, or CAT, refers to the emerging practice of collaborating across sectors and disciplines to coordinate an array of new technologies and innovations that can make travel safer and more efficient for the traveling public while enhancing overall community livability. Examples of CAT applications include cameras that help transit drivers see cyclists in their blind spots, and warnings about winter driving conditions derived from snow plow sensors.

Broadband – The Transportation of Information

As Washington looks to embrace many of the opportunities that come with transportation technology, it is vitally important that rural communities are not left behind. The economic and social opportunities that transportation technology offers are only possible if communities have broadband internet access. Expanding the broadband network will increase rural access to opportunities like telecommuting, telehealth services, and online education (e g , access to a medical specialist through telehealth can reduce the need for long trips to a distant medical facility). Better network connectivity will also allow jurisdictions across the state—including in rural communities—to take advantage of emerging technological advances related to mobility and system operations. Access to high-speed internet service is just as important in rural areas as it is in the state’s biggest urban markets.

More than 200,000 Washingtonians lack high-speed broadband access. This includes 14 percent of Washington’s rural residents. In comparison, only one percent of the state’s urban population lacks broadband access.

Efforts to increase broadband access across the state are intended to:

  • Drive job creation, promote innovation, and expand markets for local businesses.
  • Serve the ongoing and growing needs of local education systems, health care systems, public safety systems, industries and businesses, and government operations, and their ability to support reliable customer and employee access.
  • Improve accessibility for underserved communities and populations.

Broadband access is central to statewide discussions about the distribution of economic opportunity. Without high-speed internet access that broadband provides, people and businesses cannot fully participate in the array of 21st century opportunities that provide the foundation for a good quality of life.