Solution 6.0

06. Enable Technology-Driven Future

New transportation technologies, smartphones, and mobile apps are changing the mobility landscape. The past few decades have seen the rise of near real-time data for consumer travel choices, the creation of new transportation companies and services like rideshare that are directly attributable to big data and smartphones, and new ways to manage transportation systems.

With traffic congestion in the Capital Region projected to increase more than 150 percent from 2015 levels by 2040,1 these technological advances could provide much-needed solutions—improving the ease with which consumers interact with various transportation providers, encouraging more efficient use of the region’s transportation systems, and decreasing congestion. However, if not managed well, new technologies could also exacerbate the region’s existing challenges—complicating the consumer experience, discouraging efficient use of the transportation system, increasing inequitable access for certain groups, and adding to congestion woes.

The Capital Region should leverage new technologies to encourage more efficient use of its transportation system, improve the consumer experience, and provide a more equitable and accessible tech-enabled future for all consumers in the Capital Region.

Capital Region Performance

The ability of the region’s residents to travel easily across city, county, and state lines on a daily basis directly impacts the functioning of the regional economy. Each day, about 50 percent of all commuters—2.4 million people—in the Capital Region cross county lines to get to their place of work.2 Almost one in five of the region’s commuters travel across state borders to access jobs.3 While fuel is the main energy source today, data is quickly becoming the fuel driving transformations in the mobility sector.

Data and its management represent the new fuel of the region’s transportation system. For example, real-time information from smartphones provides Google and other mapping services the ability to accurately estimate trip arrival times and chart trips around crashes and severe congestion. This would not be possible without the ability to access real-time data and make use of it instantly. The possibilities to improve transport options by leveraging data are quickly growing. By 2020, the data generated by a consumer is expected to grow from a high of 700 megabytes of data per day to 1.5 gigabytes of data per day4—the equivalent of more than 6,700 200-page books.5 Delays or restrictions on data sharing could inhibit consumers, public agencies, and private transportation companies from accessing the best available information to inform their decisions.

Individual jurisdictions in the Capital Region are leading the way on integrating mobility innovations, but coordination across jurisdictional boundaries to scale and integrate these at the regional level is limited. For example, common trip planning and payment platforms are not yet available in the Capital Region. While the Washington metro area’s SmarTrip farecard allows consumers to pay for trips on the other transit agencies in the metro area, none of the region’s farecards currently function in Richmond or Baltimore—or with Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express (VRE), bikeshare, or private rideshare operations. This lack of integration across jurisdictional lines and all trip options creates confusion for consumers and undermines the potential benefits of new technologies.

Integrated mobility platforms can greatly improve the consumer experience and attract new riders—in part by speeding up transit trips. Transit consumers paying with a mobile phone take roughly two seconds to board—a bit faster than a smart card and much faster than the approximately six seconds needed to pay with cash.6 These seemingly small differences add up: On average, 20 percent of the time spent on a bus trip is spent waiting for others to pay and board.7 Offboard payments, in which public transportation consumers complete their ticket purchase before boarding a transit vehicle, further reduce travel time and can increase speeds an additional 10 percent.8 These improvements, along with integrated ticketing systems across transit options, have increased public transportation ridership from 5 to 20 percent in peer regions throughout the world.9

A regionally coordinated smart traffic signal system—which adjusts traffic signals in response to real-time roadway conditions and movement of priority vehicles such as buses or ambulances—could also significantly reduce congestion. At a cost of $50 million, Maryland is creating 14 smart signal corridors on heavily traveled state routes.10 Early results have achieved a 13 percent reduction in drive times along routes in Harford County.11 Pittsburgh’s implementation of smart traffic signal technology at more than 50 intersections in the city has reduced travel time by 25 percent at these intersections and lowered vehicle idling time by more than 40 percent.12

While the Capital Region is still a few years away from widespread adoption of full autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the roadways, Maryland, the District, and Virginia differ in their approach to allowing the testing of full AVs on their roads. Debate remains on when driverless cars and drone deliveries will be fully operational and integrated into our daily mobility services, but few doubt that these new technologies will have a transformative impact on our transportation system. The Capital Region’s ability to collaborate on how these technologies are implemented will directly impact the extent to which the Capital Region can properly manage their emergence and reap the benefits from them. Jurisdictions within the Capital Region should work together to establish the foundation to maximize the potential benefit of AV technology, while minimizing its negative impacts.



  1. UMD analysis of the Chesapeake Bay Megaregion Model.
  2. Partnership analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Each autonomous car will one day generate more data than thousands of people.” Mashable, August 2016.
  5. Partnership analysis using disk drive space values.
  6. “It Starts with a Single App.” The Economist. international/2016/09/29/it-starts-with-a-single-app.
  7. “Metrobus Studies.” PlanItMetro.
  8. Block-Schachter, David, Joe Sullivan, Tom Rousakis and Jon Godsmark. “AFC 2.0 Systems Integrator Contract.” Powerpoint Presentation for MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board, November 2017.
  9. The Benefits of Simplified and Integrated Ticketing in Public Transport. London: Booz & Co., 2011.
  10. “Governor Larry Hogan Announces Next Phase of Traffic Relief Plan for Major Regional Corridors.” Office of Governor Larry Hogan, October 2017.
  11. Ibid.
  12. “Pittsburgh’s AI Traffic Signals Will Make Driving Less Boring.” IEEE Spectrum, October 2016.
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Action 6.1

Build a Cross-Jurisdiction Capital Region Data Management System to Power All Technology Actions and Improve Regional Mobility


The Capital Region, like the rest of the country, is experiencing rapid growth in the amount and variety of data we produce and collect. New technologies that harness real-time data have powered private mobility options like rideshare and scooter share and enabled transit agencies to provide consumers with real-time arrival and departure information. Residents now provide consumer-to-consumer real-time traffic and transit data through crowdsourcing apps such as Waze, INRIX Traffic, and Google Maps. Smartphones are helping consumers navigate the vast transportation network around them—from turn-by-turn driving directions to assistance with public transit. In turn, smartphones—as well as smart traffic signals, in-road sensors, and connected vehicles—create a large flow of rich data that can provide consumers, transport agencies, and private mobility providers insight into real-time travel conditions and emerging travel patterns and needs. How states, counties, and cities curate this enormous stockpile of transportation data will have a profound effect on the commuter experience and public investment decisions.

The region’s existing data systems (a collection of infrastructure, sensors, analytics, and applications used to capture and analyze data) is disconnected within and across jurisdictions. The systems lack interoperability and suffer from transport modal silos (e.g., highways versus transit versus rail)—inhibiting consumers from accessing the best available information to inform their decisions. We must establish a coordinated mobility data system for the Capital Region that transforms the data infrastructure, creates seamless data management, and provides real-time data sharing in uniform, consumer-friendly formats. The region should allocate public dollars toward creating the data system needed to fully leverage new mobility technology to more efficiently use existing infrastructure to meet actual and emerging demand.

Households With Smartphone Access in Capital Region - 2016

Source: Greater Washington Partnership Analysis, Census Bureau 2016 Public Use Microdata Sample


The emergence of new transportation data generated by consumers, vehicles, and computers presents an opportunity for the Capital Region to improve mobility planning and investments and consumer experiences. The data available are leading some transportation agencies to rethink their infrastructure—from the built to the virtual. While each state is collecting large sets of transportation data, no jurisdiction is sharing data in significant ways across borders. Virginia is acquiring real-time data sets through the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) SmarterRoads cloud-based portal that provides users and local jurisdictions with road conditions, incidents, and multimodal status reports.1 This ensures each entity within Virginia has the same data to develop plans and investment decisions—but the District and Maryland are not using this type of data.

There are many private mobility data sets that are inaccessible to the public—and many publicly-funded mobility vendors that restrict data sharing and interoperability within the public’s systems (e.g., transit fare payment systems). In 2018, the District took steps forward to require data sharing between Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) (e.g., Lyft, Uber, Via) to better understand demand and use patterns.12 However, this data is limited to trips originating or terminating (or both) in the District, providing limited visibility into Maryland or Virginia trip patterns. The data is also delayed and has sharing restrictions, providing limited ability to integrate these transportation options to the consumers’ benefit. If coordinated, the region can create clear rules for real-time data sharing that is open and interoperable—empowering the mobility marketplace for consumers to tailor their trip to their respective needs (costs, time, ability to make multiple stops, etc.).

To create a transportation network that benefits all consumers in the Capital Region, the region’s agencies should take advantage of available data by investing in enhanced systems to store, analyze, and use the data—as well as the staff needed to manage the systems and interpret findings.


The data generated by connected devices and vehicles can revolutionize the way public agencies plan for and invest in the transportation system. Decisions will be better informed with near real-time data rather than the current, static data that can be years old. Further, real-time data would enable transportation agencies to conduct analysis daily or monthly and report it in near-real time for the public to understand what benefit they are receiving from transportation investments. It would also allow transportation agencies to be nimble in making adjustments to account for consumer demand. For example, VDOT uses similar data practices to analyze and report on the I-66 express lane corridor inside the Beltway.3 VDOT generates monthly reports and uses the data to fine-tune roadway management operations to improve travel conditions.4

While public transit vehicles will remain the most efficient way to move people on our roads in congested areas, they may not be the most cost-effective solution in less dense areas of the region. In these instances, openly sharing data could allow partnerships between public transportation agencies and TNCs that complement the existing network. Transit agencies could utilize TNCs to address gaps in transit service delivery—specifically, first/last mile and evening and early-morning work shifts. Providing connections for consumers when transit is not viable, accessible, or existent could better utilize ever-tightening transit resources while driving more users to transit systems and increasing ridership over the long term.


In many instances, transportation agencies have not developed a use case or understanding for why they must overhaul their data systems. In others, they may lack the technical capacity to manage and analyze the new mobility data. Agencies should also enhance their workforce capacity to manage the new mobility data system and can benefit immensely from regional cooperation and common standards executed across jurisdictions and within agencies themselves.

There are 467,000 households (13 percent) in the Capital Region that do not have internet access at home—and 667,000 households (18 percent) without access to a smartphone.5 A credit card or bank account is an important component for the tech-enabled mobility options (e.g., ridehail). These consumers’ data points may not show up in the new mobility data ecosystem, and the region’s leaders must be intentional in their approach to not only account for these residents’ mobility needs in the tech-enabled transportation system, but to also make sure they receive equal benefit from public investments going forward.

Without secure, modern systems to protect and analyze data, consumers and private companies are vulnerable when sharing data. Malicious actors could hack the public or private data systems, or private mobility providers could use their data systems to conduct anti-competitive or illegal operations. The Capital Region will need policies and regulatory safeguards to ensure confidence and trust in the public’s data management practices.

Next moves

Data is the fuel that will drive the future of mobility in our region. Managing, analyzing, and enabling real-time use of data for public and private consumption will be critical to unlocking an equitable tech-enabled future for all consumers in the Capital Region.

Next moves are:

  • Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), District Department of Transportation (DDOT), VDOT, and the metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) should develop an umbrella open data regulatory framework and procurement standards for public and private transportation operations (e.g., TNCs), sensors, cameras, signals, APIs, AVs, and other new mobility data sets.
  • MDOT, DDOT, and VDOT—in collaboration with the MPOs and large transit agencies—should develop a digital data master plan that inventories existing data and data needs; establishes data sharing, interoperability, procurement, safety, and privacy standards; and identifies data investment priorities to be included in state capital and operating budgets
  • MDOT, DDOT, and VDOT should fund a research program for higher education institutions to study and recommend updates to the region’s travel demand models and trip generation, traffic impact, and development analyses, as well as establish new analytical tools and services—including access and equity analysis methods
  • Transportation agencies should partner with technology companies, higher education institutions, and technology stakeholders to train staff in data science, analysis, and visualization, and search for opportunities to pool data and expertise across agencies


In the near term, costs to deliver these improvements are modest—ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million. These costs should be shared across the region’s transportation agencies and be included in annual operating budgets and work programs.


  1. “VDOT Launches SmarterRoads: New Online Data Portal Provides Easy, Free Access to VDOT Information.” VDOT Press Release, August 17, 2017.
  2. “DC may require ride-hailing companies to share data, but won’t encourage pooling.” Greater Greater Washington, May 15, 2018.
  3. “66 Express Lanes Inside the Beltway Usage Update.” VDOT Press Release, December 5, 2017.
  4. “66 Express Lanes Inside the Beltway: News and Information.” VDOT, 2018.
  5. Greater Washington Partnership Analysis, Census Bureau 2016 Public Use Microdata Sample.
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Action 6.2

Enable the creation of Integrated Mobility platforms for all public and private mobility options


Public agencies spend a significant amount of money each year on construction projects. In the Capital Region, this spending is projected to be over $300 billion between 2015 and 2040. Some jurisdictions leverage their buying power to ensure local residents or economically disadvantaged community members are given priority for new jobs created by these publicly-funded projects.

When procuring work for a construction project, the public sector can give preference to contractors and developers who provide family-supporting jobs to local residents, veterans, and workers in disadvantaged communities with high unemployment by establishing inclusive and responsible contracting that generates quality jobs and community benefit through local law, regulation, or agency policy. By adopting consistent local and targeted hiring policies in the Capital Region, we can better leverage public dollars to address unemployment and support equitable economic development.

Principles for Integrated Mobility

  1. Put the user experience at the center of ticketing and trip planning investments.
  2. Build capacity for interoperability and new functionality in planning and ticketing systems for public and private mobility services.
  3. Ensure that new ticketing systems equitably empower all consumers.
  4. Leverage new ticketing systems to learn, experiment, and transform the travel experience.


One recent study found over 10 percent of daily transit consumers already use a combination of transit and ride hailing to reach their destinations.1 However, the region has made little progress integrating trip planning and ticketing across public and private mobility providers. Nowhere in the Capital Region is it possible to reserve a private bikeshare or carshare vehicle from within a transit ticketing application or vice versa. This friction between public and private trip planning and payment systems adds to a poor consumer experience and discourages consumers from using regional non-drive-alone mobility options.

From 2016 to 2017, Metrobus ridership fell 5.6 percent, while Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) bus ridership declined 8.9 percent and Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) ridership dropped 9.1 percent.2 Integrated ticketing platforms increase the likelihood that consumers opt for public transportation and have delivered public transportation ridership increases from 5 to 20 percent in peer regions throughout the world.3 More riders will bring greater operating revenue to transportation agencies—offering paths to expand service without increasing budgets.

Current State of Integrated Ticketing in the Capital Region

Annual Ridership Mobile Payment Available Smartcard Available Smartcard Used Cash Payment Available When Boarding Free Capping Joint Ticketing with Private Mobility Providers Interoperability with Other Public Agencies For or Systems
MTA (Baltimore) 111 million (2016) Yes Yes 25% Yes No No None
Metrorail (Washington) 180 million (2016) No Yes 100% No No No Smarttrip Network
Metrobus (Washington) 123 million (2016) No Yes 88% Yes No No None
GRTC (Richmond) 7.9 million (2016) Yes No N/A Yes No No None
MARC 9.0 million (2015) Yes N/A N/A Yes, with surcharge of $5 No No No
VRE 4.3 million (2015) Yes N/A N/A No No No Amtrak
Amtrak (Northeast Corridor) 11.9 million (2016) Yes N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A VRE

Integrated mobility platforms can also shrink agency expenses by reducing costs to collect fares, lowering the cost of providing a given level of bus service, and leveraging better data to improve public transportation operations. All other ticketing options are cheaper than cash, with the cost of issuing a paper ticket accounting for an average of 5 percent of transportation agencies’ total cost to serve a passenger, smartcards consuming 3 to 4 percent, and mobile ticketing only 2 to 3 percent.4 In London, allowing contactless payments with a phone or debit card reduced the cost of collecting fares from 14 percent of total revenue to 9 percent in just over a year.5 Although only 12 percent of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) fares are paid with cash, those transactions consume 10 percent of the agency’s entire budget for administrative and processing costs.6 However, an integrated mobility platform must not erode the user experience or restrict access for those unable to afford smartphones. One way to ensure low-income residents are not harmed by new mobile ticketing is to maintain the ability to pay with cash—whether on board, at an off-board kiosk at the stop, or at a nearby store. Those using cash will still benefit from faster, more reliable public transportation trip times when others complete transactions with their smartphones.

The Capital Region benefits from many non-driving mobility options, including intercity rail, commuter rail, transit, public and private bikeshares, rideshare, scooter share, carshare, and taxis. However, these options are disconnected—creating friction that discourages their use. For example, a consumer must use two separate payment platforms to complete a trip that includes transit and a public or private bikeshare ride. The non-uniform payment platforms can create uncertainty that nudges consumers to choose to drive—putting additional burdens on our transportation system and jeopardizing the Capital Region’s global competitiveness.


The consumer experience could greatly improve, in part, by speeding up trips. Bus service, in particular, becomes faster and more reliable with mobile or debit card payments. One recent study in Arlington found that a consumer paying for a bus trip using a SmarTrip farecard takes 2.5 seconds, compared with six seconds when using cash or 20 seconds if SmarTrip needs to be refilled.7 Transit consumers paying with a mobile phone take roughly two seconds to board—a bit faster than a smart card, and much faster than cash.8 These seemingly small differences add up—on average, 20 percent of the time on a bus trip is spent waiting for others to pay and board.9 Offboard payments, in which public transportation consumers complete their ticket purchase before boarding a transit vehicle, further reduce travel time and can increase speeds an additional 10 percent.10

Integrated mobility offers new opportunities for mobility providers to incentivize consumers to shift their travel behavior. In Pittsburgh, the public transportation system’s ConnectCard smartcard was linked with the HealthyRide bikeshare system to offer consumers unlimited 15-minute bike rides.11 This partnership grew bikeshare usage in Pittsburgh by 10 percent.12

Integrated mobility platforms can also ensure that consumers always pay the lowest and most appropriate ticket price for their trip. For example, London’s integrated ticketing platform automatically calculates the best-value ticket for each consumer’s daily trips and then charges them the best ticket value at the end of each day.13 This improves the experience and avoids penalizing those who cannot afford the upfront cost of an unlimited pass.


The Capital Region’s slowness to integrate mobility services is attributable more to costly vendor contracts and a lack of will than to the limitations of technology. For example, when MTA created its new mobile payment system, the agency decided the mobile option would not integrate seamlessly with the CharmCard because of concern over cost.14 This leaves the consumer with two payment options they must manage separately, which limits the potential benefit from the new system. At the same time, MTA has decided to remove the interoperability of the CharmCard with the Washington metro area’s SmarTrip card.15 Even though the same technology vendor designed both systems, MTA chose to terminate the integrated fare payment option between the systems—foregoing an opportunity to improve seamless travel for consumers traveling in and between Washington and Baltimore. While the reasons cited for terminating the integrated fare payment option were a lack of riders and funding constraints, it is precisely this kind of integrated, consumer-friendly operability that has been shown to drive increased ridership and revenue growth in foreign markets.

With more than 75 public and private entities playing a significant role delivering mobility services in our region, coordination is a challenge—especially given that our region covers two states, a federal district, and the federal government. However, the Capital Region must work to overcome these structural barriers—at a minimum, to keep pace with peer regions around the globe, improve user experience, and ensure that mobility services compete with the private vehicle.

Next moves

The Capital Region’s transportation decision makers, elected officials, and private transportation companies should work to overcome structural barriers and establish the region as the first in the country to enable integrated mobility platforms for all public and private mobility providers.

Next moves are:

  • Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express (VRE), and the transit agencies should establish strategic goals and plans for a seamless platform for all public and private trip planning and ticketing in the region
  • All transit agencies and public bikeshare systems in the region should incorporate fare capping into their payment systems, and pilot integration of their systems into a seamless payment platform
  • MDOT, DDOT, VDOT, and transit agencies should pursue regional and national funding to move toward seamless ticketing across all mobility options in the region


Investments in new fare payment hardware and software systems vary based on operations, term of service, and scale—with new systems coming online in Philadelphia for $150 million to more than $700 million in Boston.16 These costs of upgrading fare payment systems are built into the region’s public mobility providers’ capital budgets, with all three principal transit agencies moving to upgrade their systems by the end of 2019. Costs to enable integrated mobility platforms are marginal when upgrading fare payment systems—so long as the agencies have the vision and leadership to make this a priority in the vendor procurement process. The marginal costs for enabling an integrated mobility platform are expected to be outweighed by the revenues generated from increased use of mobility services and decreased operating costs—particularly for public buses.


  1. Gooch, James. “New Mobility Survey Finds Over ⅓ of Americans are Combining Public Transit with Ridesharing.” Masabi, May 8, 2018.
  2. “TransitCenter’s NTD Transit Ridership Analysis, 2002-2017.” TransitCenter, May 2, 2018. http://
  3. The Benefits of Simplified and Integrated Ticketing in Public Transport. London: Booz & Co., 2011.
  4. Pelletier, Marie-Pier, Martin Trépanier, and Catherine Morency. Smart Card Data in Public Transit Planning: A Review. Montreal: Cirrelt, 2009.
  5. “Infographic: Contactless Ticketing—Two Years on.” Transport Ticketing Global 2018, January 2017.
  6. “Cash Free Bus Pilot.” Board Action/Information Summary. WMATA, May 24, 2018.
  7. “Metrobus Off-Board Fare Payment: P3 Business Plan.” Draft. Metro Planning, September 2015.
  8. “It Starts with a Single App.” The Economist, September 29, 2016. international/2016/09/29/it-starts-with-a-single-app.
  9. “Metrobus Studies.” PlanItMetro, October 3, 2016.
  10. Block-Schachter, David, Joe Sullivan, Tom Rousakis, and Jon Godsmark. AFC 2.0: Systems Integrator Contract. Boston: MBTA, 2017. november/2017-11-20-fmcb-afc2.pdf
  11. “Go Further with Your ConnectCard.” Healthy Ride Pittsburgh, 2018.
  12. Talking Headways podcast, episode 164, with Karina Ricks and Breen Masciotra.
  13. “Contactless in London: One Billion Journeys and Counting.” Rambus, July 13, 2017.
  14. Based on communications between the Partnership and MTA.
  15. “What of our region had a seamless platform for buses, bikeshare, ride-hail, and more?” Greater Greater Washington, August 6, 2018.
  16. Block-Schachter, David, Joe Sullivan, Tom Rousakis, and Jon Godsmark. “AFC 2.0 Systems Integrator Contract.” Powerpoint Presentation for MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board, November 20, 2017.
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Action 6.3

Deploy regionally coordinated smart traffic signals to reduce vehicle congestion and speed up bus travel


Traditionally, transportation agencies have addressed roadway congestion by expanding the road’s number of free, general-purpose lanes. However, expansion as a solution is no longer feasible in many areas of the region due to cost or space limitations. Furthermore, expansion has had marginal long-term benefits in reducing congestion because there is no ability to manage demand—and the new space is filled with cars within a few short years.

Implementing regionally coordinated smart traffic signal systems may be one near-term, cost-effective fix. Smart traffic signal systems can use videos and sensors to calculate real-time roadway conditions and adjust connected signals in a corridor to reduce traffic congestion by smoothing traffic flows and prioritizing traffic in response to demand. These systems would be a tremendous upgrade from the Capital Region’s current, conventional, static signal systems, which operate according to set timing plans based on the average volume of traffic expected during a given period of time (morning, afternoon, and evening). Signal timing alone causes more than 10 percent of all traffic delays on major routes in urban areas—leaving commuters with roadway systems that cannot adjust to variations in traffic flow caused by crashes, road work, events, and weather.1


Considering the significant impacts traffic signals have on mobility, congestion, and fuel consumption, they provide the Capital Region an opportunity to reduce trip times by better managing roadway demand. On average, Capital Region travelers lose seven days of productive time per year due to traffic backups.2 A factor behind this is the lack of smart traffic signals actively working in our transportation grid. In 2015, roughly 3 percent of all traffic signals in the U.S. were connected and smart signals.3

Smart signal systems allow transportation agencies to prioritize bus travel through transit signal priority (TSP) treatments that can extend a green light so buses continue moving through an intersection or can provide buses priority at the beginning of signal cycles to place the bus at the front of the travel lane. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), 20 to 30 percent of bus travel is wasted sitting at signals or in congestion.4 A smart signal pilot project in Copenhagen saved buses up to two minutes during AM and PM rush hour traffic.5

Like Copenhagen, the Capital Region is actively investing in this technology. However, the dialogue between states—and, in some instances, between states and counties or cities—has been limited. While it is not imperative for the region’s transportation agencies to have the same signal vendors, the systems need to be compatible and coordinated. Without interoperability and coordination, the systems will not work efficiently and may induce traffic backups. If done right, smart signal systems are relatively inexpensive pieces of infrastructure that can provide the foundation for the Capital Region to be a leading smart region.


The greatest benefit of smart signals is their ability to reduce and manage congestion. At a cost of $50 million, Maryland is creating 14 smart signal corridors on heavily traveled state routes.6 Early results demonstrate a 13 percent reduction in drive times along routes in Harford County.7 This investment is far smaller than many highway expansion projects and will achieve far greater reductions in the near- and medium-term congestion levels along these corridors.8

Pittsburgh’s implementation of smart traffic signal technology at more than 50 intersections in the city has reduced travel time by 25 percent at these intersections—and lowered vehicle idling time by more than 40 percent.9 Moscow has implemented similar technologies and realized a 13 percent increase in travel speeds throughout the city despite the addition of one million more vehicles on the roads since 2010.10


Blindly prioritizing improvements for private vehicle movement at intersections can limit the growth of transit ridership, biking, and walking—growth the region’s state and regional transportation plans seek to support. Smart signals can increase vehicle travel speeds—extending delays for pedestrians and bicycles waiting to safely cross the intersection. The region should adopt smart signal policies that consider all users of the region’s multimodal transportation system and reinforce the region’s goals.

In a region where nearly 50 percent of consumers cross county borders to access jobs—and one in five cross state borders11—smart signals must be interoperable between neighboring jurisdictions, where ownership of the road changes hands. Where this potential friction exists, the jurisdictions should coordinate traffic signal upgrades and ensure the signals can communicate, using the same signal policies to provide for seamless and efficient travel.

Next moves

Smart traffic signals provide transportation agencies a critical demand management tool, which can reduce congestion, increase transit speeds, and reduce pollution from the transportation sector at a relatively cheap cost compared to other transportation investments. These investments can best serve the demands of the region’s consumers if they are coordinated with neighboring jurisdictions.

Next moves are:

  • Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) should fund a research program to 1) recommend best practices for traffic signal hierarchy prioritization for private vehicles, shared vehicles, transit vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians to achieve the region’s transportation goals—including maximizing person throughput and safety for the most vulnerable users of the transportation system, and 2) model future traffic signal needs and operations under an automated mobility network
  • MDOT, DDOT, and VDOT should develop an umbrella regulatory framework to capture and retain smart traffic signals data that would improve infrastructure management and public safety and reduce congestion
  • MDOT, DDOT, and VDOT should launch a multi-jurisdiction smart signal sandbox pilot that enables regional entities and transport innovators to safely conduct real-world tests on cutting-edge technologies, collect data to inform research, and scale successful innovations


Transportation agencies include traffic signal upgrades in their annual capital and operating budgets and can strategically decide to prioritize smart signal upgrades with these funds. Some corridors are equipped with technology systems that make upgrades to connected and smart traffic signals relatively inexpensive. In corridors without technology hookups, states will need to strategically invest additional funds for both the connection to the Ethernet and new smart signals. These additional funds can be justified by accounting for congestion savings in cost benefit analysis.


  1. “US DOT’s Smart City Challenge and FTA’s MOD Sandbox: Advancing Multimodal Mobility and Best Practices.” Powerpoint Presentation for TRB Webinar. Transportation Research Board with The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. February 15, 2017.
  2. UMD analysis of the Chesapeake Bay Megaregion Model.
  3. “Scientists at FAU Driven to Help Transform Commutes Locally and Globally with ‘Smart’ Traffic Lights.” Florida Atlantic University Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatics Engineering. June 22, 2015.
  4. “Bus Priority Treatment Guidelines,” National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, April 2011.
  5. “Three smart traffic case studies.” Enterprise IoT Insights, November 8, 2017.
  6. “Governor Larry Hogan Announces Next Phase of Traffic Relief Plan for Major Regional Corridors.” Office of Governor Larry Hogan, October 2017.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “‘Smart’ traffic signals soon will change themselves in Maryland.” The Washington Post, October 25, 2017.
  9. “Pittsburgh’s AI Traffic Signals Will Make Driving Less Boring.” IEEE Spectrum, October 2016.
  10. Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a More Livable Future. McKinsey & Company, McKinsey Global Institute, June 2018.
  11. Partnership analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey.
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Action 6.4

Establish a coordinated autonomous vehicle (AV) strategy for the Capital Region


There’s an obvious intrigue when it comes to autonomous vehicles (AVs) that can drive themselves without human interaction—because, eventually, they will be on our roads, driving changes to demands on the transportation system and the built infrastructure. Some researchers anticipate that consumers will benefit from a reduction in crashes, emissions, and congestion, while others assume less dense development patterns and a loss in public revenues as a result of widespread AV adoption. In this uncertain time, many agree that, in the absence of strategic planning, regulation, and thoughtfully constructed policies, the future may look like “heaven” or “hell”—or somewhere in between.

Currently, car manufacturers and tech companies are working to make full AVs a reality by expanding upon the five key components of an AV’s anatomy. These include computer vision (cameras), sensor fusion (data collection from surroundings), localization (GPS location), path planning (destination and real-time on road trajectory), and control (vehicle uses all parts independently). As these components continue to be perfected, it will require collaborative efforts by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), states, and local jurisdictions to develop regulatory, workforce, and policy standards that can adhere and adapt to the changing environment.

While the Capital Region is still a few years away from widespread adoption of full AVs on the roadway, Maryland, the District, and Virginia differ in their approach to allowing the testing of full AVs on their roads. The jurisdictions within the Capital Region should work together to establish the foundation to leverage this technology to maximize its potential benefit while minimizing its negative impacts.


The arrival of full AVs, which can navigate the roadways in all situations without human drivers, may be only a few years away, but there is much uncertainty on how the technologically advanced vehicles will transform the Capital Region. Many stakeholders assume, with widely differing outcomes, that AVs could significantly change mobility demands (e.g., reduce demand for parking, increase or decrease vehicle miles traveled, increase sprawling development patterns), lower employment in the transportation sector, decrease transportation revenues, and increase safety. It is too early to be confident of the outcomes from AV penetration, but it is nevertheless important that transportation agencies adopt strategies to plan, manage, and maximize AVs’ benefits and reduce their risks to enhance mobility options and convenience for all consumers.

The University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth analyzed a possible future for the Baltimore and Washington metro areas—where autonomous vehicles are adopted widely, where fuel prices are low, and where the governments don’t regulate growth—as part of its Prospects for Regional Sustainability Tomorrow (PRESTO) project.1 Under these conditions, PRESTO found the economy would boom—and vehicle miles traveled would increase 37 percent more than existing projected baseline conditions.2 However, due to AVs’ ability to drive closer together, the roads could carry more vehicles and significantly reduce congestion by 78 percent.3 Under the assumption that driving would be easier and cheaper, PRESTO predicts residential and workforce land uses could sprawl and transit ridership could be cut by 41 percent from current baseline projections.4 While this future depends upon several factors that may or may not occur, decision makers will need new resources and tools—similar to the PRESTO model—to sufficiently plan for and achieve desirable outcomes for the region.

Strategically planning and executing thoughtful policies to deal with AV integration will be important. However, collaboration to create learning opportunities and coordinated AV plans and policies throughout the Capital Region does not yet exist. Maryland, Virginia, and the District are well entrenched in researching AVs and advancing various pilots; however, there is limited coordination between the state departments of transportation (DOTs) or metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that would allow for cross-border commuting. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) enacted a framework through a working group that allows for the testing of Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs) and is developing a statewide CAV strategy.5 The District has partnered with the Southwest Business Improvement District (SWBID) to release a Request for Information for an AV pilot program on 10th Street SW.6 Virginia has created the Virginia Automated Corridors (VAC) initiative, which provides multiple real-world testing environments, including over 70 miles of urban interstates and rural arterials in Northern Virginia.7 The Commonwealth is also developing a CAV program,8 which is separate from Maryland’s strategy.

The three jurisdictions’ advancement of innovative approaches to AV testing and planning is a positive step forward. Yet, the region’s transportation demands do not end at state borders, and AV technology—if widely deployed—will need to safely and seamlessly cross into and back from neighboring jurisdictions. In the calm where we find ourselves today, before the likely disruptive storm of AV penetration, the region should learn together and adopt coordinated approaches to AV implementation.


While the benefits of AVs are speculative at this point, their potential to impact the transportation system could be significant. More than 37,000 people were fatally wounded by human-driven vehicles in 2016.9 Distracted and drunk driving are two main factors for crashes—both severe and fatal on U.S. roadways10—that may no longer be a factor for AVs. Speed is also a major factor for crashes, which could be removed if policies require AVs to adhere to speed limits. Together, this may lead to a significant reduction in crashes and fatalities.

Additionally, deploying AVs in a shared service vehicles model could reduce household vehicle ownership costs and reduce the amount of public space reserved for parking vehicles.


A key barrier is the lack of federal regulations for uniform standards for AVs and supporting technology—creating uncertainty for many private and public actors. Another barrier is that no one knows when AVs will be widely available. In the absence of federal direction and wider adoption in regions throughout the world, states and localities are creating a patchwork of regulations and executive orders to regulate and incentivize AVs while remaining uncertain on how best to plan for the future. This creates challenges for multi-jurisdiction public or private AV testing and best practices to be developed and deployed.

Similar to other new technologies, manufacturers and operators of AVs will be seeking an environment where there are clear regulations and high-quality infrastructure. If we don’t have that in the Capital Region, AVs will be deployed elsewhere—leading to a perception that the Capital Region is not a cutting-edge place, and costing us jobs or people seeking the benefits AVs can provide. If the Capital Region wants to be a place that encourages innovation, it needs to create the environment in which AVs can succeed.

Next moves

One of the most impactful ways the region can improve AV implementation is through increased collaboration. This is not occurring today, which hinders the region’s preparedness for AV adoption.

Next moves are:

  • Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) should establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to develop consistent and coordinated approaches to plan, deploy, and govern AV technologies; share best practices for pilots conducted in each jurisdiction; and research and implement coordinated responses to potential changes expected from AV adoption, including land use and transportation demand changes, transportation and non-transportation revenue loss, changes to workforce demand and training, changes to traffic rules and regulations, and physical and IT infrastructure
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), and Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) should conduct joint federally funded research pilots to test AV applications
  • Each transportation agency in the region should integrate new tech-enabled mobility options into long-range transportation plans and modal plans (e.g., pedestrian, transit, bicycle, and freight), including AVs, rideshare, and dockless mobility options


The costs associated with planning and coordinating AV efforts are limited and can be built into existing work programs by the governments of the Capital Region.


  1. “Prospects for Regional Sustainability Tomorrow (PRESTO).” National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, College Park.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Actions in Maryland on Connected and Automated Vehicles.” Maryland DOT Motor Vehicles Administration.
  6. “RFI: Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Project - 10th Street SW, L’Enfant Plaza.” SWBID.
  7. “Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Partners Unveil Virginia Automated Corridors.” VTTI, June 1, 2015.
  8. “Connected and Automated Vehicle Program.” VDOT, September 27, 2018.
  9. “USDOT Releases 2016 Fatal Traffic Crash Data.” NHTSA, October 6, 2017.
  10. Ibid.
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