Q&A: Ohio State’s Carla Bailo discusses the future of transportation

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Carla Bailo is a leader in engineering and vehicle program management with 35 years of experience in the automotive industry. As Ohio State’s assistant vice president for mobility research and business development, she helps coordinate the university’s involvement as the primary research partner for Smart Columbus, a $140 million program to transform central Ohio into a test bed for smart mobility.

UBJ interviewed Bailo on Oct. 19 while she was in Greenville for a keynote presentation at the TD Convention Center. The event, which was sponsored by Ten at the Top, marked the beginning of Connecting Our Future, an initiative focused on increasing mobility and connectivity while reducing traffic congestion across the Upstate.

AM: What is smart mobility?

CB: Smart mobility is the adoption of transportation strategies and services that have been designed to reduce pollution, reduce congestion, and create seamless, efficient travel experiences for people. I usually call it the triple zero, which is zero accidents, zero carbon footprint, and zero stress.

AM: Why should growing cities consider adopting these strategies and services?

CB: As cities continue to grow, congestion is getting worse. It’s not only creating unsafe driving conditions but also leaving a huge carbon footprint because people are having to sit in traffic for longer periods of time. The federal government estimates that a typical passenger vehicle emits over 4 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. We can reduce that number. But we can’t continue to add more lanes. Studies have shown that we don’t use those added lanes more efficiently. We just fill them up. I think for people to improve their quality of life, increase their time with family, and reduce their commuting time, it’s critical that we look at ways to reduce congestion.

AM: How can cities reduce their carbon footprint and create a safer driving environment?

CB: I think autonomous vehicles are the only way we’re going to have a crash-free society and reach the efficiencies we need. For example, in a traffic jam today, about 30 percent of the roadway is available. Humans drivers aren’t capable of finding it. Autonomous vehicles, on the other hand, can get up to 400 percent throughput on any existing roadway because of sensing technology. But still, everyone switching from a personal vehicle to an autonomous vehicle isn’t going to solve the issue. In fact, it could make it worse if the car is used a lot and not parked in a garage like 95 percent of the time it is today. We have to be really careful how we do this and the kinds of mobility packages we offer. It’s going to need to be a sharing environment with three or four autonomous vehicles for an entire apartment complex that people can use throughout the day on some kind of shared basis.

AM: Is there a relationship between transportation and economic development?

CB: Transportation is extremely important to economic development, especially when public officials are trying to convince a business to move to their city. If employees can’t get to and from the job, then the odds of successfully recruiting that business are seriously reduced. That’s why I think we should consider providing a shuttle service for businesses or convince them to operate their own. Places like Mexico and Brazil are already adopting this idea. Unfortunately, Google is the only American company doing it.

AM: Why are public agencies struggling to implement smart mobility solutions?

CB: I think we tend to build our cities around our roadways. And all of our building codes are enforced in such a way to promote more and more cars. Many planners are thinking about how to get more vehicles into the area with parking garages. But they are neglecting the arteries and how to move vehicles in and out efficiently. In a lot of cases, we should just turn urban planning upside down to really make the city what we want it to be and find the most efficient way to move people and goods in and out.

AM: How important is the private market to the adoption of smart mobility?

CB: We’re not going to be able to adopt these solutions without the private market. There are a number of private companies and startups across the U.S. that are working to solve congestion and other issues. Via, for instance, is a shuttle-based ridesharing service that uses data analytics and crowdsourcing to allow people to catch a ride with other people who are going in the same direction. These kinds of businesses can actually supplant the public bus system. I don’t know what it’s like in Greenville, but many times you have a huge bus that only has one or two people on it depending on the time of day. They’re spitting out large amounts of carbon dioxide and wasting money. That’s why I think we have to really push for public-private partnerships. That’s the future.

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