SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION FEDERICO PENA
Committee on Science United States House of Representatives
January 6, 1995
I welcome the opportunity to testify on the future impact of science and technology on transportation, and, in particular, on how the Department of Transportation is working to bring about important changes in transportation within a 20-year timeframe. This is a topic about which I have had strong feelings since becoming Secretary, and I have devoted considerable effort to assuring that the nation's transportation enterprise reaps the full benefits potentially available through wise applications of existing and emerging technologies. Technological development and deployment is one of the core goals in the Strategic Plan we developed last year for the Department. I will touch on several aspects of this topic: (1) our vision for the transportation system, (2) the major role I see for technology in realizing that vision, (3) steps we have taken to heighten the priority given research and technology within the Department, and (4) the nature and value of our work during the last year with the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). I will conclude with some comments on space transportation, which I understand to be of special interest to this committee.
With respect to the broader issues raised by the Committee, the Department has given considerable thought as to how we can advance the Nation's transportation system. The long-term vision articulated in the DOT strategic plan is of a seamless intermodal transportation system that effectively ties America together and links it to the world. It will provide for safe, secure and efficient movement of goods and people throughout the nation while stimulating a strong and globally competitive economy, making sustainable use of natural resources and having minimal adverse societal and environmental impacts. But I stress that this is not simply a DOT vision. This vision represents the collective wisdom of many Federal agencies as coordinated by my Deputy Secretary in leading the activities of the NSTC Transportation Committee, which I address below. We see public- and private-sector technology investments as a necessity to assure continuing transportation improvements and continuing evolution to meet changing societal needs. Our sponsorship last fall of the "Transfuture" Technology Fair on the National Mall was a visible symbol of the Department's determination to encourage and accelerate the technological revolution in transportation. We are working closely with industry, National Labs, and other agencies and levels of government on solving problems and improving transportation through development of safer vehicles, efficiency-enhancing intelligent transportation systems, and better intermodal connectivity.
Realization of this broad vision will be based on major advances in transportation technology. The Department is committed to playing a leading role in this process. The results, as identified in the NSTC Transportation Committees recent report, will include:
-- A production prototype of an affordable, attractive automobile capable of up to three times current fuel economy and meeting future standards for safety and air pollution.
-- A validated technology base which will enable the commercial development of a new generation of safe subsonic and high-speed civil transport aircraft that far surpass today's aircraft in affordability, efficiency, and environmental compatibility, as well as the development of a safer, more efficient and more productive air traffic management system
-- Demonstrated prototypes of bridges and highway surfaces capable of lasting years without pothole repairs or major maintenance.
-- Advanced, integrated highway, air, rail, and marine information systems that will monitor transport system performance and will provide operators and passengers the information they need to maximize flexibility and choice, and minimize congestion and environmental impact.
-- Prototypes of heavy trucks, rail locomotives, and buses that minimize the use of non-renewable resources, and will be safe, secure, economically viable, suitable for use by an increasingly diverse population, and, at the same time, be producible and create manufacturing jobs in the US based on both domestic and export markets.
-- A civilian space launch industry capable of competing in any unsubsidized international market.
-- Advanced technology ships and marine terminals that provide for the efficient flow of intermodal domestic and international commerce
In our work last year on the NSTC Transportation Committee the several working groups and subcommittees developed specific strategic goals judged to warrant high priority in transportation research and development investments, beyond funding necessary to continue to meet legislated agency mission responsibilities. The strategic goals are as follows:
-- Space Launch: Assurance of reliable and affordable access to space through a stronger US space launch capability which meets the needs of the civilian, national security, and commercial sectors.
-- Personal (Light-Duty) Motor Vehicles: Renewed leadership in automotive technologies through the development of a new generation of energy efficient, low emission vehicles that will preserve American jobs and improve American competitiveness.
-- Medium and Heavy Duty Motor Vehicles (Trucks and Buses): Assurance of US leadership in truck and bus technology by investing in improved materials, components, and design concepts and other technologies required for improved accessibility, energy efficiency and environmental characteristics.
-- Rail Vehicles (Intercity and Transit): Positioning of the US as a world technology leader and primary exporter of rail-related equipment and services by facilitating technological innovation in rail vehicle design and construction and by introducing advanced materials, and communications and control technologies which will result in improved performance and reduced costs.
-- Ships and Shipbuilding: Improvement of the competitiveness of the US in ship building, ship repair, ship design, and ship production in order to ensure a strong US shipbuilding industry unsurpassed in building the finest and most complex vessels in the world, and competitive in world-wide markets.
-- Transportation System Assessment Tools and Knowledge: Development of information required for government and industry managers to make effective decisions about the operation of existing transportation systems as well as new investments.
-- Human Performance in the Transportation System: Definition of appropriate roles for the human in the loop through human center automation and improve the competitiveness of American products through the integration of human performance principles and procedures and the application of new information dissemination, communication, and display technologies to transportation.
I will now turn to specific current concerns and activities of the Department of Transportation. In keeping with the Department's fundamental responsibilities, the principal focus of our efforts to foster innovation must be safer and more efficient transportation. While our transportation system's transportation safety record is the envy of the world, the continuing high death toll on the Nation's highways and several recent aviation accidents remind us of the need for continued progress. I am particularly concerned that even with today's low fatality rates, projected growth rates for travel could result in as much as a doubling of total road and air fatalities over the next 20 years or so. I do not believe the American people will accept this prospect, and I certainly do not. But continuation of the rate of improvement achieved in recent decades will be a very challenging endeavor, and success will depend upon making the best possible use of new technologies in improving safety, and on coming to a better understanding of human performance and behavioral characteristics in interactions with transportation systems and operations. Research and development is a critical part of meeting our safety responsibilities.
In the closely-related area of transportation security, the FAA last month announced a major breakthrough with the certification of the world's first true explosive detection system. This joint effort by InVision Technologies and the FAA's Technical Center will result in a worldwide civil aviation system, within the next five to ten years, will be secure from terrorist attacks like the one the destroyed PanAm 103.
An efficient and effective transportation system is critical for US manufacturers if they are to compete effectively in the expanding global markets now being stimulated by trade agreements such as GATT and NAFTA. The Department's work has a significant impact on the overall performance and efficiency of the transportation system through its direct operational responsibilities for airways and waterways, the manner in which it exercises regulatory responsibilities, and its role in guiding and administering infrastructure investment to create a truly national system, while responding to local needs. Beyond these activities, DOT takes very seriously its role in advancing the technological base on which transportation rests. Through this means we improve transportation while also creating jobs by strengthening the competitiveness of US providers of transportation-related equipment and services.
Last May, my Director of Technology Deployment, Mr. Noah Rifkin, testified before this Committee's Subcommittee on Technology, Environment and Aviation. At that time he emphasized the efforts we are making to elevate the role of technology research and development in the Department, and to focus on the use and deployment of technology as a catalyst for organizational and cultural change at DOT. In addition to creating the post of Director of Technology Deployment as a key focal point, we have revitalized our existing internal structure of coordinating committees concerned with research and technology in a way that has significantly increased the priority given this important topic. We have also worked enthusiastically and diligently with the NSTC, established by the President to coordinate research among Federal agencies and chaired by Dr. John Gibbons. As requested by Dr. Gibbons, I took the lead in establishing one of nine NSTC committees, the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation R&D. It is chaired by Deputy Secretary Downey, and has submitted several reports that provide important leadership in steering transportation-related R&D across the government and in guiding public and private-sector efforts to deal with critical transportation issues. Our work with other agencies in pursuing the NSTC activities -- primarily with NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Defense, Energy and Commerce -- has been especially satisfying. Although the effort is still very new, a great deal has been accomplished in the last year in clarifying the mutual interests and potential synergies in many transportation-related R&D programs, and in setting coordinated priorities that will shape future budgets.
In a similar vein, the Department and the entire transportation enterprise will benefit greatly from our participation in the DOD Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) Technology Reinvestment Project, which has resulted in substantial joint public-private investment in promising transportation-related applications of dual-use defense technologies. The consortia and partnerships created by this undertaking represent a particularly effective way of performing user-oriented R&D in application-oriented sectors such as transportation. In addition, we have detailed a DOT staff member to provide full coordination with the Department of Commerce Advanced Technology Program.
While the bulk of the Department's R&D is necessarily focused on specific and often shorter-term mission responsibilities, we have many programs across the transportation spectrum that are guiding and contributing to the major changes likely to occur over the next twenty years. Since the physical elements of transportation, such as highways, railroads, and vehicle fleets, can change only slowly, the most immediate and dramatic future improvements arise from innovations involving use of those assets more effectively and efficiently. Like many other spheres of activity, transportation is being dramatically affected by application of a wide range of information technologies -- such as sophisticated communications, satellite-based navigation, and computers -- in ways have direct impacts on performance, service levels, capacity, safety and efficiency throughout the transportation system.
The term Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), formerly called "Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems," is now being widely used as shorthand for the many ways in which these technologies support better use of existing and new transportation infrastructure. This is a very exciting area, and I will address it in some detail. Examples include reduced congestion through better traffic management on urban highways, smooth flow of commercial vehicles across state and national borders, and availability of detailed and accurate information to shippers and travelers as a basis for decisions, particularly by making use of the National Information Infrastructure. The lead for ground applications of this activity in the Department is with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), but all modes are increasingly active in this area. We have established an ITS Joint Program Office to provide the vision, leadership and strategic guidance necessary to realize the promise of ITS deployment across all modes. This office is facilitating the coordinated development and deployment of advanced technologies, consistent with the first objective in the DOT's strategic goal of creating a new alliance between the transportation and technology industries. The Department's ITS Program fulfills the governmental role of providing seed money to facilitate the deployment of infrastructure needed to sustain private sector developmental and marketing efforts for technologies and services that are arising from the joining of the transportation and information technology industries, and to foster public/private partnerships to accelerate the development of this emerging industry and increase US competitiveness. The ITS initiative provides intermodal travel information to individuals; facilitates the efficient movement of goods through the commercial vehicle industry; allows for the efficient operation of the nation's surface transportation infrastructure; creates a safer and more secure environment for travelers; and fosters development of an emerging industry which combines transportation and information technology.
The Traveler Information Systems subset of ITS includes the vision of a complete range of intermodal transportation information before a trip begins, and of travel advisories and route guidance once a trip is underway. An example of an early version is the recently completed Smart Traveler operational test in Boston involving a public/private partnership. Also, General Motors recently announced that it will begin test marketing in California an on-board navigation device using GPS satellites and other techniques to determine vehicle location. And Avis is offering navigation devices in its rental cars in California and Florida.
Advanced Transportation Management Systems will integrate the control and operation of surface streets and freeways, as well as a transit and emergency vehicle fleet management system, allowing these systems to respond in real-time to changing traffic conditions. Westinghouse, for example, has been active in the development of automated vehicle location computer-aided dispatch systems, particularly for the transit industry.
Commercial vehicles are being equipped with technologies which provide real-time traffic and vehicle location information, allowing optimal fleet management, and reliable delivery scheduling, as well on-board safety monitoring equipment. HELP, Inc. is the outgrowth of a successful FHWA operational test. It is a partnership between the States along the I- 5 west coast corridor and the motor carrier industry to provide electronic clearance for properly equipped and documented trucks. Individual vehicles are being redesigned to implement collision avoidance technologies which sense and provide warnings for potential or imminent collision situations. The entire Greyhound bus fleet is being equipped with a blind spot detection and collision avoidance system called VORAD developed by Eaton.
But the revolutionary application of information technologies to transportation affects not only highways, but all modes of transportation. A major portion of Federal Aviation Administration R&D has, of course, always been in the area of air traffic control and management. The aviation system of the future will build on these technologies -- particularly on the new capabilities offered by satellite-based positioning and navigation systems -- to permit evolution toward a more seamless system of "free flight" that will increase capacity and efficiency of the National Airspace System. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is actively working with the industry on systems for central control of trains to maintain safe separation from each other and safe passage through highway-rail grade crossings, and on management of railroad operations by using locomotive-mounted GPS receivers and Geographic Information Systems. The Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) has responsibility for coordinating the Department's participation in the National Information Infrastructure Initiative.
While exploiting the opportunities offered by these technologies is largely the work of the private sector, the Federal government has several clear and important roles to play, working in partnership with industry and academia. The first, as I noted above, is that of a catalyst and source of seed money and technical assistance from Federal laboratories and other sources of relevant special expertise. A related responsibility is the fostering of university research, particularly at University Research Centers, under the RSPA university research grants program. A second key role, in which I see the Department of Transportation as necessarily taking a lead role, is that of assisting in the establishment of consensus on national and even international standards for the use of new technologies and applications. Only with such standards can these technologies grow to form both a cohesive national system and a true mass market, both domestically and abroad. Finally, the government has a broad responsibility not only to ensure the safety of any new technologies used in transportation, in itself an increasingly challenging task, but also to identify and stimulate innovations that serve primarily to improve safety, such as vehicle collision avoidance.
The vehicles and physical infrastructure that make transportation possible are also central to long-term advances. Each of the Department's operating administrations is highly sensitive to opportunities to work with the private sector to contribute to innovation in areas consistent with agency missions. Thus, we find the Federal Transit Administration involved with the industry on alternative-fuel and electric buses, the Maritime Administration participating actively with ARPA in the MARITECH initiative to improve shipbuilding, and the Federal Railroad Administration exploring ways to contribute to the development of alternative fuel and high-speed non-electric locomotives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's core focus on automobile crashworthiness is a natural element of the public-private Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) being led by DOC. RSPA has taken the lead in coordinating our extensive participation in the ARPA- led Technology Reinvestment Program, which has included participation in the evaluation process and monitoring of several transportation-related awards. This activity assures the maximum mutual benefits for both defense and civil applications in areas of common interest. The cost- shared TRP has stimulated substantial private-sector investment directed toward transportation. In short, we are devoting a very large effort to coordination of transportation research and technology activities both within the Department and across the Federal government.
On the basis of the Transportation Committee's work, the NSTC identified R&D related to the physical infrastructure of transportation -- primarily concerning application of new and high-performance materials and structures to transportation construction, and use of advanced non- destructive techniques for monitoring and inspection -- as one of eight priority areas. These topics represent major thrusts for Federal Highway Administration R&D, and the Federal Aviation Administration program addresses improvements in construction and monitoring of runway pavements needed for the much heavier aircraft anticipated early in the next century. FRA continues to work actively on techniques for better inspection of rail vehicles, components and track.
However, improved technologies are only part of the story. Transportation decisions, whether made in the public or private sector, must address a steadily widening range of considerations, including environmental and safety impacts; economic effects for various segments of the population; national energy and petroleum consumption; land use and living patterns; international agreements; global competitiveness and balance of payments; and appropriate roles of each involved party. We must improve our ability to make wise and balanced cross-modal and multi-modal R&D and infrastructure investment and resource allocation decisions. National goals embodied in Federal legislation place heavy burdens on state and local agencies for planning and decision-making in areas of technical complexity. We are developing information and tools for use in meeting these challenges to remedy situations in which they are difficult to obtain or simply do not exist. Estimation of the consequences of alternative courses of action are shrouded in uncertainty.
Issues of this type include the appropriate role of high speed passenger rail systems in the US, development of acceptable strategies for dealing with air quality mandates and urban congestion, and the clash between environmental concerns and the need for transportation infrastructure renewal and expansion. The models and data available to address these issues often provide an inadequate foundation for satisfactory resolution. Further, the models often so complex or data-intensive that their use by local authorities, who have primary responsibility for many issues, is problematic. Gaps in our understanding of the workings of the national transportation system plague not only governmental agencies and businesses, but also legislative bodies trying to legislate and appropriate productively. Such gaps make it difficult to assure the value and cost- effectiveness of proposed regulatory actions. In other cases, uncertainty as to the market viability of truly innovative products can diminish or preclude private R&D even in areas of real technical promise. Better understanding and models can be very helpful in resolving such issues.
Accordingly, the NSTC Transportation Committee concluded that there is an acute need for improved data, analyses and assessments of all aspects of transportation system performance, including environmental impacts and behavioral factors affecting travel choices, to support policy development and implementation, regulations, legislation and planning by governments at all levels and the private sector. The Department is fully supportive of this goal, and is currently working with appropriate agencies to coordinate a responsive long-term comprehensive activity. Ongoing activities of this nature include work on performance indicators by the new Bureau of Transportation Statistics, FHWA transportation system modeling and environmental studies, FRA's study of the commercial feasibility of high speed ground transportation systems, and FAA's annual projection of future air traffic. In FY 1996 we will have a major involvement in assessing the impacts of alternative technological realizations of a personal motor vehicle with three times the fuel efficiency of current cars, as envisioned by the PNGV.
In view of this committee's special interest in space, I will add some comments on our role in that area. We believe that the US commercial space transportation industry, in partnership with Federal and state governments, has the potential to create jobs, strengthen the economy, and lead the way to a productive new industry sector. DOT's Office of Commercial Space Transportation has been an active participant in developing an implementation plan for the President's National Space Transportation Policy which was announced last August. This plan is designed to ensure low-cost access to space and the international competitiveness of the US space transportation industry, which also serves our military, intelligence, and civil launch needs.
During 1995, DOT will be updating launch regulations, assisting in negotiation of international agreements to promote stability in the launch market, and developing an inventory of facility needs of the US commercial space transportation industry. Within the basic constraint of maintaining safety, we are looking carefully at ways to minimize regulatory burdens and encourage innovation and entreprenuership.
Just a few weeks ago we announced plans for a major restructuring of the Department of Transportation -- the first since DOT was created 27 years ago. It will include corporatization of the air traffic control functions of the FAA and substantial consolidation of our 10 separate operating administrations, in addition to streamlining the way we do business and a significant downsizing. While we have not yet completed the process of determining the most effective structure for the Department, I can assure you that we are giving special attention to how best to integrate research and technology activities with our many and varied mission responsibilities, and to position the Department to continue to serve as a technology steward and stimulus for the entire transportation enterprise.
Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you and the Members of the Committee in this important area.