Imagine for a moment being stuck in gridlock. ‘There has to be a better way,’ you may ponder. However, teleportation remains firmly within the realm of science fiction, and our current transportation infrastructure systems are all we have, yet there is always room for improvement.
To try to do that, the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) and Intelligent Transportation Systems Society of Canada (ITSC), have teamed up. The two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding last summer to hold the 2019 TAC-ITSC Joint Conference and Exhibition to address concerns and challenges that need to be at the forefront of this essential industry.
The conference is to be held in Nova Scotia’s provincial capital at the world-class Halifax Convention Centre from September 22 to 25. This event is being hosted by Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and Halifax Regional Municipality and will be the largest conference of its kind held in Canada.
It promises to be an exceptional opportunity for all interested participants to network, gather professional development experience, and learn about innovative technologies and state-of-the-art practices. But perhaps more importantly, conference delegates will derive a clearer picture of how our transportation and infrastructure systems can dictate our future.
“TAC and ITS Canada have a long history of being colleagues and partners in the transportation sector,” TAC’s Executive Director Sarah Wells says. “We’re all very aware that innovation and technological developments are happening at a great rate, and that those developments can have potentially profound impacts on our transportation systems.”
Balancing supply and demand will remain a key concern as will determining how such systems are constructed, delivered, operated, and maintained. The desired outcome is “more communication between the transportation world and the technology world,” she says. This joint event will assist both organizations’ members to “take best advantage of the opportunities that technology presents to deliver transportation that is effective and efficient.”
Sarah notes that Halifax is an ideal setting in which to conduct this event, allowing easy access for the 1,400 anticipated participants, as most will be from Canada. “Our organizations are strongly oriented toward the national landscape, although we do have relationships with other international organizations,” she says. “It’s going to be a good venue for delegates to attend sessions, for our exhibitors to showcase their products and services, as well as for many of our networking events.”
Past ITSC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chris Philp adds that his organization has a large focus on multimodal transportation. “Halifax is the intersection of a wonderful example of harbour, rail transportation, air, and highways. It forms kind of a backdrop for the ITS Canada members that are so deeply involved in the intermodal transportation of goods and people.”
This event will include over one hundred exhibitors, comprised primarily of manufacturers, consultants, and contractors. “It’s really going to be an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the state of the sector and for people to see and test new products and services and to network with decision-makers and entrepreneurs,” explains Sarah.
Included will be a showcase space for some exhibitors to promote new products and services through live, interactive demonstrations. “That will be an exceptional opportunity for companies to present to a target audience,” she says, “as well as an opportunity for delegates to learn more about innovative products on the market.”
Chris says that ITSC plans to integrate the exhibit area into the conference itself using small ceremonies, for example, to, “really draw the delegates into the exhibit space.”
As well, there will be seventy sessions across ten streams for discussion, including mobility, operations, asset management, road safety, automated and connected vehicles, climate change, and smart cities. “There’s a broad range of topics being addressed throughout the conference,” says Sarah. “There are natural shared interests in those streams between our two organizations. And we’ve made a concerted effort to highlight where there are shared interests in some of the sessions that might not be obvious to people… Across the board, the sessions are truly relevant to both our organizations.”
Additionally, the event will include ten technical tours in which delegates will have the opportunity to view some of the interesting projects and installations in the city. “Those are always popular,” says Sarah. “We often have a hard time meeting the demand for those tours because people really do like to get out and touch, see, and feel the real things. It’s a good way to see some of Halifax while at the conference as well… The tours, exhibition and technical sessions are an excellent complement for each other.”
Sarah notes that the opening plenary session for this joint conference will consider the theme of ‘Premise and Promise: Technology and the Future of Transportation.’ Among the questions to be addressed is how implementing new technologies will benefit the industry and the public or pose challenges. “We have a panel of experts coming in to speak on that theme,” explains Sarah, “and it’s promising to be an engaging opening and set the tone for the three-day conference.”
Other discussion issues include protecting public safety, security and privacy, combating congestion and inequality, and how successful partnerships can be formed between government and industry. “New technologies are reshaping our transportation systems,” she continues. “We want to talk about how we can unlock the potential of safe, clean mobility and smart open cities… that’s going to be a really interesting session for members of both of our organizations.”
This event is not so much an attempt to create a strong unified voice, but rather it is a “forum that will allow connections to be made,” explains Sarah. “We are ensuring there are opportunities for our communities to communicate and discuss critical issues amongst themselves.”
Fundamentally, the success of this joint conference and exhibition will be in the “metaphorical bridges that will be built between the infrastructure and technology communities so that we can work better together and deliver transportation systems that make Canada safe, healthy, and prosperous,” she says.
Chris adds that the introduction of new technologies like autonomous vehicles, vehicle to vehicle (V2V), and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I), communications, mobility choices, and smart city technologies present issues related to cybersecurity, big data processing, individual privacy, and the requirement for diverse skills to manage all. “To date, we’ve been very reactive to the introduction of all these new [technologies], and it’s important for members of both organizations to appreciate both these opportunities and the challenges.”
He refers to autonomous vehicles as an example. “More than ever before, in the history of our transportation infrastructure, these new initiatives are drawing together multidisciplinary teams.” These groups are made of engineering professionals, automakers, infrastructure designers, data companies, enforcement, and first responders as well as Homeland Security. “We’re now needing to reach out to all sorts of other industries in order to gain knowledge and tackle the problems that we have with the new technologies that are coming our way … the pace in which the change is being forced upon us is astonishing.”
This is all the more reason why these two organizations have to work together in creating meaningful and productive ways to come to some resolutions to some very tough decisions.
“This joint conference may be the biggest recent demonstration of how we can work together. It’s certainly not the first, and it won’t be the last,” Sarah concludes.