Advancements in technology and transportation have gone hand in hand for generations. This union has been essential to the United States becoming an economic powerhouse. If we hope to extend that reputation, we must continue to embrace technological innovations that help us move safely from one place to another, facilitate the free flow of commerce and keep America globally competitive.
Countless examples throughout our country’s history demonstrate the intersection of technology and transportation. The ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the American people always have been among our country’s strengths, and the results have cemented our reputation for innovation and propelled our economy forward. The Industrial Revolution, the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford demonstrated that an environment that fosters innovation can redefine how America does business.
These innovations are now considered standard: American companies such as FedEx and UPS have utilized and improved our extensive transportation network with effective logistics operations in order to meet the need for time-sensitive package and freight deliveries.
Now, startups are helping to uphold the traditional technological partnership with transportation. Services that offer car- and bike-sharing, and smartphone apps with the ability to connect passengers and hired drivers exemplify the newest wave of innovation.
History has demonstrated this inexorable link between technology and transportation, and we have no reason to believe the future will be any different. As Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I believe technology, including startup driven solutions, presents tremendous opportunities to improve safety, increase efficiency and help us maximize the use of our federal resources.
As we move forward, though, the federal government will play an important role. It is essential to protect the public interest and safety, but we must ensure that innovation is not stifled by overregulation. Government should embrace technology, not impede it.
For example, the government will need to find that balance when it comes to autonomous vehicles. I recently witnessed a demonstration of this technology when I took a 30-mile trip in a driverless car from suburban Pittsburgh to Pittsburgh International Airport. The experience was enlightening: The vehicle seamlessly navigated a complex route with various driving conditions and speeds, multi-lane and single lane highways, construction zones, traffic signals and intersections.
Without a doubt, though, there are many questions and policy issues that must be examined and answered about the safety, privacy, efficacy and impacts of driverless vehicles. Yet, the potential of this particular technology to improve transportation efficiency and reduce highway fatalities demands that we fully explore it.
Autonomous vehicles are just one example of the current intersection of transportation and technology. I am committed to an ongoing dialogue with both the transportation and technology communities about how to maintain the United States’ well-earned reputation as the home of innovation and discovery, so I want to hear your ideas.
Moreover, as debate on the next highway bill begins, I want to work together with all stakeholders – including the startup community – in writing the legislation. If we’re writing a bill for the 21st century, it’s paramount that we hear from those who are making innovation happen.
This legislative endeavor is a great opportunity for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to do things differently. As we write this bill, getting input from the startup community is vital if we are truly going to embrace changes within our transportation system. I look forward to this unique opportunity and ask that you join me in taking this step forward.
This column is the first in an ongoing transportation-innovation series written by Congressman Bill Shuster, who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Shuster also is the U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 9th congressional district.