June 23, 2020

Webinar Takeaways: “Advancing Regional Cross-Agency Collaboration During Unforeseen Circumstances”

Written by: Ben Kort, Market Research and Business Intelligence Intern

It is without a doubt that COVID-19 has caused disruptions to our daily lives that have led not only to frustrations, but to changes in the ways we live and operate. One of the most interesting impacts of COVID-19 has been the changing traffic patterns and the subsequent adjustments that traffic management agencies needed to make. In a recent webinar hosted by the National Operations Center of Excellence (NOCoE), three panelists explored the challenges that different agencies have experienced, as well as the adjustments they have made to communicating and operating as a result. The webinar, called “Advancing Regional Cross-Agency Collaboration During Unforeseen Circumstances,” was a panel-style discussion. 

Who were the panelists?

The panelists had a wide range of backgrounds in the traffic management industry – from both the government and the private sector: 

  • As the CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), MJ Maynard, leads the agency’s transit, traffic management, roadway and construction design, and transportation efforts. 
  • Joanna Pinkerton, President and CEO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), leads the regional transit organization which provides services to Columbus and Central Ohio. 
  • Waycare’s own CEO, Noam Maital, also joined the panel to speak about the role that Waycare is playing to support its range of government users. 
  • Finally, the discussion was moderated by SFB Consulting’s Scott Belcher; as the previous CEO to ITS America and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), Scott is a veteran of the traffic management industry and understands the individual struggles the ecosystem is facing as of late. 

Webinar Takeaways: 

The hour-long webinar afforded the panelists enough time to discuss the main issue at hand and they all agreed that the traffic industry must do a better job of harnessing data; this would help advance traffic insights that lead to safer roads, quicker response times, and more. Traffic agencies are struggling to take advantage of their mountains of data because it is being siloed within organizations and not shared effectively. The panelists discussed their agency’s strategies for making the best use of their data and how they are increasing cross-agency interoperability. COVID-19 has fast-tracked the technological advancement of our society; the traffic management industry must keep pace with the changing environment. 

Although technology has been at the forefront of our lives for some time, people are more reliant on it than ever before. The webinar even asserted that, “technology can have the power to mobilize entire communities.” When I reflect on the ways that I have engaged with communities in my life since the beginning of  COVID-19, I know that it would not be possible without technology. My classes, family celebrations, social life, and now my job were all seamlessly replaced by technology. This shift is making the use of data even more salient as increasing levels of our daily activity is being tracked and utilized for official use, such as making public health decisions, or helping companies target specific consumer segments. Yet, the transportation management industry is trailing behind the rest of the world in effectively harnessing this data. I am excited to be working for a company that is at the forefront of making major advancements in this industry. The data and technology both exist, now it is about finding the best ways to harness them in order to create valuable insights, and Waycare is one of the companies leading those efforts. However, for the transportation industry, the use of data and technology stretches far beyond just creating safer roads. 

Along with COVID-19, there have been ongoing protests in the fight for racial justice and equality. This is a time where everyone in the world, even the transportation management industry, must unite to fight these systemic injustices. One might ask, “How can a traffic agency possibly join this fight and contribute?” I was stuck on this question too, until Joanna Pinkerton discussed her city’s focus on public transit. Traditionally, traffic agencies would simply map out and operate along the most efficient transit routes. However, now agencies are working together with all stakeholders, such as city planners and major employers, to develop routes that target both where people live and work. Improving access to public transportation by uprooting old systems, will create more job opportunities, access to essential services, and faster means of transportation for those who need it most. However, these changes could not be made without advancements in data utilization. The Central Ohio Transit Authority made it a priority to increase interoperability across agencies and effectively organize their collective data. This led to new data, such as population density, being shared and now used to modernize the transit systems. This is just one example to highlight the profound impacts that cross-agency collaboration and effective data usage can have. 

The industry’s use of data, AI, and other smart capabilities is certainly increasing, but we are still only at the tip of the iceberg. Data has no limits. It can be analyzed and applied towards decision making at all levels from creating safer roads to fighting systemic injustice. It is this flexibility and the increasing amount of data produced that will continue to drive traffic data analytics and insights to the next level. These discussions and examples shared by the panelists must not fall on deaf ears. It is up to the rest of the industry to follow their examples and implement new data utilization strategies that will make the roads a better place for everyone.

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