Toll Insight spoke with Suzanne Murtha, National Lead, Connected and Automated Technologies for AECOM.
AECOM is an American multinational engineering firm, based in Los Angeles, California. AECOM has approximately 87,000 employees and is a top company on the 2019 Fortune 500 list. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange as well as the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
1. Tell us about your career trajectory and how it has blended the various areas of transportation / mobility technology.
I began my career as an analyst for the automotive industry. I worked with Coopers & Lybrand and Standard & Poor’s to forecast sales and production of vehicles as well as the electronic components for each vehicle line and model on a global basis. We looked for trends in electronics systems and technology development while using the broader sales and production forecasts to predict how many of each type of system would be available on the market.
Following 9/11, I tried to enlist in the Army but was unable due to my asthma, so I instead joined the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) in Washington, D.C., leading the Connected Vehicle (CV) team. I wanted my work to closely support the government, so I brought members from the automotive industry to ITS America, and we worked jointly with States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to develop the first CV deployments.
Following that experience, I became one of the first people hired by Kapsch in the U.S., where we worked to bring CV technology to tolling.
Finally, I shifted to consulting roles and have been supporting Infrastructure Owners and Operators (IOOs) in Connected / Automated Vehicle (CV/AV) deployments since, most recently focusing on automation across many modes of transportation and geographies.
2. In your current role, you focus on CV/AV technologies. Can you describe, in your view, how this tech already is or will impact the tolling industry.
Connected and Automated Vehicles hold the promise of eliminating vehicle crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that Vehicle-to-X (V2X) deployments could eliminate approximately 82% of non-impaired crashes. That is a huge number.
For example, interaction between vehicles and intersections will allow vastly improved mobility and reduced emissions from signal queuing. When we add automation features, we can improve personal driving and public transit to ultimately eliminate travel related crashes, including crashes involving vulnerable road users.
In addition to safety, mobility, and environmental improvements, we are close to realizing a draft standard for tolling using V2X technologies. I have always considered tolling to be the first connected vehicle application. Soon, vehicles will execute financial transactions for parking, tolling, Road Use Charging (RUC) and other transaction types that have not happened before, eliminating the need for aftermarket in-vehicle devices. We could be executing financial transactions with the same equipment that the vehicles use to execute the safety applications described above.
3. You are a person that does a lot of "industry" work -- volunteering, leading, organizing etc. Can you explain your passion for this and how it positively contributes to your core job duties?
Many major industry advancements stem from collaborative thinking and expertise that originates in volunteer industry groups such as OmniAir, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), ITS America and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). These industry associations help facilitate some of the best thinking across firms and industries. We can grow and benefit from the advancements and investments of our industry partners. Providing leadership and input to industry groups allows members to learn from each other while advancing technology and relationships that will lead to lifesaving mobility and environment-improving technologies. These outcomes are core to the missions of AECOM’s clients.
4. What are some of the exciting projects and efforts you are currently working on?
AECOM recently formed the Automated Bus Consortium, which brings together transit and transportation agencies to investigate the feasibility of implementing pilot automated bus projects across the United States. I am excited to be part of the team working to build a market for automated vehicles in the transit space. Our work will enable automated transit vehicles to improve safety, mobility, and access throughout transit systems.
AECOM is also part of a team looking at the role of CV/AVs in RUC systems. RUC West, an organization spanning most of the states in the Western U.S., is advancing RUC for transportation funding, as gas tax revenues continue to drop while average vehicle fuel efficiency increases. We are supporting RUC West in exploring the role of automation and connectivity for the RUC system.
5. Outside of your own work, what do you see as some of the most innovative trends or products relevant to the tolling industry?
I do see an expansion of tolling and payments for road use more broadly. I suspect future road payments are unlikely to involve roadside gantries or aftermarket devices in the vehicles. I also see personal mobile devices being used for transactions as well as the merging of advanced technology in the car and payment services. There will also be interoperability developing across regions using different approaches. These various trends hold a lot of promise and excitement for growth and improvement in the tolling industry.