Department of Transportation

Anthony Foxx, right, U.S. secretary of transportation, tours the TACC Visualization Laboratory on Friday.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Anthony Foxx, U.S. secretary of transportation, discussed the future of technology as it relates to transportation in a meeting with UT researchers, faculty, and graduate students Friday.

Foxx, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013, said the administration hopes to encourage new technological developments that will improve processes such as cargo shipping.  

“Freight is … a huge issue in this country because we are going to see 45 percent more freight moving around our country over the next 30 years,” Foxx said.

Different governmental bodies must work together to implement new technologies, according to Foxx.

“Metropolitan planning organizations, state departments of transportation, local departments of transportation, federal department of transportation — all those players have to intersect in order for us to get the most out of the 21st century,” 

Foxx discussed “Beyond Traffic,” a federal initiative which will outline traffic trends and the way they shape the U.S. population’s needs over the course of the next three decades. According to civil engineering graduate student Kristie Chin, the program might help increase traffic control and make people more aware of the problems traffic causes, but possible
technological applications for transportation extend far beyond traffic monitoring.

“We can increase market penetration [with Beyond Traffic], but then we also looked at [using] more futuristic, higher levels of automation like 3-D printing, drones [and] automated trucking,” Chin said.

Technology could make U.S. transportation systems safer and more efficient, said Andrew Kerns, electrical and computer engineering graduate student.   

“[We could] use managed lanes for connected and automated vehicles, especially for freight transportation, and … drones for situational awareness during traffic accidents,” Kerns said. “I’m particularly excited about the advent of connected and automated vehicles. The future is not very clear, but there are a lot of opportunities coming.”

UT’s Center for Transportation Research, which has received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, works on projects that help improve driver behavior, traffic congestion and intelligent transportation systems. UT’s innovation with technology and transportation is one that should be emulated in the rest of the country, Foxx said.  

“We need to be thinking about the future — about how technology plays a role in transportation — and that kind of thought process is happening right here [at UT],” Foxx said. 

David Tashnick, owner of Easy Rider Pedicabs, believes tricycles are preferred to trailers by consumers in response to the Austin City Council’s proposal to change the model of the cabs. A resolution considering this, as well as a change in the number of pedicab permits, was passed on April 17.

Photo Credit: Michelle Toussaint | Daily Texan Staff

The city of Austin’s freeze on issuing new pedicab licenses, which was supposed to expire Wednesday, will remain in place for another three months as the Austin Department of Transportation finalizes recommendations for additional regulations, which may include a ban on certain trailer pedicab models. The moratorium has been in place since April 2012.

Department officials will consider implementing a city-wide cap on the number of pedicab permits in circulation and a requirement that pedicab companies use a three-wheeled, fully connected tricycle model, rather than a model in which a brake-less trailer is connected to a normal bicycle.

“In 2012, the council approved some regulation, but those two things were not addressed at that time,” said Carlton Thomas, acting parking enterprise manager for the Austin Department of Transportation. “The Austin Transportation Department was given what amounted to two years to conduct research and look out across the country, to see how other cities are handling the number of pedicabs that operate in their jurisdiction, and the type of pedicabs that are permitted to operate.”

The department is looking at data from cities including New York, Denver and Phoenix, Thomas said. Council member Chris Riley sponsored the original ordinance with Bill Spelman.

Leah Bojo, a policy aide for Riley, said the council approved the extension because they were not prepared to draw conclusions about ideal pedicab regulations.

“The staff hadn’t completely worked through the stakeholder process to get the final recommendations,” Bojo said. 

David Tashnick, owner of Easy Rider Pedicabs, said the tricycles are safer and more economical.

“It doesn’t make business sense for any pedicab owner to use trailers because the riders prefer tricycles,” Tashnick said. “I’ve lost count of how many drivers I’ve hired that used to drag trailers and wanted something better.”

Tashnick said he is confident that the council will implement the regulations being discussed. 

“I’m very certain the city council is going to eventually put a sunset on the usage of trailers here in town, and, in a few years, trailers will no longer be permanent in Austin,” Tashnick said.