A Senate subcommittee is told technology should be incorporated into surface transportation reauthorization.
New and emerging digital technologies that improve supply chain efficiency should be incorporated into the next surface transportation reauthorization bill, witnesses told the Senate Transportation and Safety Subcommittee on Wednesday.
“Just as federal, state and local governments could improve infrastructure, traffic flow and safety by adopting new technologies, the private sector is also looking at technology for improvements,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Deb Fischer, R-Neb., in her opening statement. “Innovations like digital freight matching and visibility could improve the management of available resources resulting in more efficient uses of our current infrastructure. Blockchain also has the capacity to heighten efficiencies and optimize costs for transportation and logistics.”
Brent Hutto, chief relationship officer for Truckstop.com, said an affordable connected transportation freight system “would be the most impactful way to reduce congestion in metro areas.” The availability of systems is currently a challenge for their adoption as many of them are privatized and available only to those with the necessary resources, he said, but a universal system would drive efficiency because of increased visibility of where freight is moving.
“What you have is a disparate system that they are not connected together, so you have a tremendous amount of trucks trying to go into a certain area that creates more congestion,” he said. “If you had systems that were connected together, you could efficiently route and plan that better, which would create better safety on the roads because you would have less miles because of the planning that would happen.”
Hutto also told the lawmakers about an “e-credentialing” program Truckstop.com has been working on since 2017 with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Through the program, all permits a truck driver must display during inspections have been digitized. The test on a 157-truck fleet showed a 20-minute reduction in stop time, he explained.
“That is a massive increase in efficiency when it comes to their safety on the road with not being exposed while making these inspections,” Hutto said. “Also, it’s a cost reduction for the fleets, but most importantly it’s a safety issue.”
Patrick Duffy, president of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), said the “e-credentialing” program is “another great use of blockchain ensuring the accuracy around driver credentials.” Blockchain technologies and the digitization of analog processes needed to leverage them could mitigate data-driven situations and increase trust between counterparties, he said.
“Supply chain and transportation industries are notoriously low margin and so much of that margin capture is associated to creating trust between counterparties,” Duffy said. “By leveraging blockchain technology, we can increase the trust available between counterparties and allow for collaborative commerce to emerge. … Leveraging advanced technology, including blockchain, is a way to minimize those human-induced errors and create better trust between counterparties.”
He said blockchain is “an ideal technology for security because it is an immutable distributed ledger. This ledger records every transaction or change. Transactions cannot be obscured, hidden or erased after the fact.”
BiTA has worked to identify use cases in which standardization of data would benefit parties involved in supply chain and transportation, according to Duffy’s written testimony, and released its first set of standards in February, with three more expected to be unveiled later this summer.
“It’s really important to understand that our member companies when developing these standards represent every transportation mode — air, road, rail, ocean — all coming together in a collaborative way to agree upon these standards, and I think that’s really going to move the ball forward from the experimental into an ecosystem level of adoption over the next 36 months to five years,” Duffy said.
Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, and Steve Ingracia, deputy director of technology and strategic planning for the Nebraska Department of Transportation, both spoke about the importance of standards in relation to automated vehicles.
Ingracia said nationwide highway standards would help support the development of autonomous vehicles, and states agreeing to standards among themselves in key corridors would create a path to the nationwide standards. He said Nebraska is part of a 12-state coalition that covers more than 3,400 miles of interstate highway that submitted an INFRA proposal. The states agreed to develop and comply with standards for striping, work zone design and data exchange to support highway automation readiness, he said.
“This would effectively create a corridor for autonomous and connected freight movement across the continental U.S. while also demonstrating the ability for states to collaborate and develop design, operational and data exchange standards that could also become the de facto national standard,” Ingracia said.
Hutto said the full potential of the emerging technologies would not be realized without investment to improve infrastructure.
“In conclusion, digital technology will drastically improve the transportation and freight industry, efficiency and safety on the road,” Hutto said. “However, without supporting surface transportation infrastructure, any gains achieved through digital improvement will be minimized by congestion, parking availability, hours of service corrections, fuel costs and wear and tear on the trucks due to poorly maintained roadways and bridges.”
Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with a coalition of more than 40 businesses and labor groups sent a letter to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders urging them to resume discussions on America’s infrastructure and “take legislative action this year.”
Ed Mortimer, the Chamber’s vice president of transportation and infrastructure, said in a press call, “I think at the bare minimum we want to see surface transportation reauthorized for a long term.”
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law in December 2015, expires Sept. 30, 2020. The Senate Commerce Committee also held a hearing last week about surface transportation reauthorization, during which lawmakers heard testimony about hours-of-service rules and the potential of lowering the age of interstate truck drivers among other topics.
“I’m hopeful that this highway bill can incorporate and integrate a lot of these new technologies into enhancing our supply chain,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said during Tuesday’s hearing.