Fast Forward: towards a better future for the Commonwealth

October 14, 2016

Mobile technology continues to disrupt and revolutionize transportation, with far-reaching implications for how we get around by car, transit, bike and other modes. And the emergence of autonomous vehicles is a dominant trend in personal transportation, as the motor vehicle industry begins to reinvent itself. 

From the industrial revolution to the information age, machines have played a major role in shaping society, communities, work and health. We’re in the early stages of another transformation, with three strands woven together: new transportation technology; climate change; and unequal access to opportunity.

In a new report, Fast Forward: The Technology Revolution in Transportation and What it Means for Massachusetts, our coalition examines these converging trends, and sets forward a public policy framework that urges leaders at every level of government to place the highest value on the environment and people.

Good public policy depends on good data and good decisions. While private sector innovation is essential, it alone won’t ensure that we serve everybody, from rural areas to suburban towns to urban neighborhoods. We must work towards complementary transportation systems that get people where they need to go, safely, affordably and cleanly. 

Here’s the framework we suggest.

Our core transportation system – public transit, pedestrian and bike infrastructure, roads and bridges – must be maintained and modernized. Shared rides and autonomous vehicles (AVs) will use it, and transit in particular must add capacity to serve tomorrow’s needs. That’s job one.

Our climate is changing, and we must place a high value on transportation that is not carbon-based.  The transportation sector is now the leading source of greenhouse gases, and we must aggressively reduce our contribution to warming air and oceans. Where ride sharing and AVs (for example) reduce climate change, they should be encouraged. Where they worsen it, they should be discouraged.

We must strive to serve everybody. In transit deserts that are poorly served today, private innovation combined with robust public transit can make the difference. But we should not allow, or even encourage transportation companies or agencies to “cherry pick” to serve the most affluent communities. Similarly, people with disabilities are an integral part of every community and must be served by every transportation provider. 

Data is the lifeblood of transportation because without good information we can’t make good decisions. While public transportation agencies have a mandate to share data, that’s not true of private providers, unless they are required to do so.

Our regulatory framework is a legacy, and won’t serve tomorrow’s needs. Government should facilitate innovation and not stifle it, striking a balance that achieves our climate, equity and service goals.

This is an evolving, exciting area of public policy and private enterprise, and one that already has the attention of government, employers, innovators, media and advocates. Change will happen, but it should be shaped by our state and local leaders to get us closer to solutions to our serious challenges.

We invite you to read the Fast Forward report, this executive summary, and our policy recommendations. We also acknowledge the members of our coalition and our partners who have worked on this report and policy recommendations, and the research into innovative mobility that made it happen: Frontier Group, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, 495/MetroWest Partnership, the Conservation Law Foundation, MassCommute, WalkBoston, Acadia Center, MASSPIRG and the 128 Business Council.


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