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For decades, transit agencies have provided safe and efficient service on subways, light rail systems, buses and other modes. Transit agencies today are working to improve their performance and meet riders’ evolving needs with technology-based innovations.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) continues to support Secretary Elaine L. Chao’s priority regarding innovation across the transit industry through its Research, Innovation and Deployment Office. Assisting the transit industry in adopting tried – and proven – technologies sets the stage for safer, more efficient public transportation across the nation.

FTA, along with the other modes at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), is working to support research into autonomous vehicle technologies.  DOT recently announced the release of automated vehicle requests for public comment, including two FTA requests related to automated bus and transit vehicle automation. Comments received will help USDOT identify barriers to innovation, help shape future initiatives supporting bus automation demonstration projects and inform technical assistance on advancing automated vehicle technologies.

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Did you know that Americans took 10.2 billion trips on public transportation in 2016 and that transit ridership has increased 26 percent during the last 20 years?

These facts come from the National Transit Database (NTD), a trove of statistics and information about public transportation in the United States. Established by Congress in 1974, the NTD is the nation’s primary source of publicly available data on transit systems across the country. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) manages the NTD and uses the data to allocate Federal funds. In addition to FTA, a variety of groups and individuals use the database, including state and local governments, researchers and students, the media, and industry associations.

FTA uses data from the NTD to distribute federal funds to transit agencies according to formulas set by Congress that are based on ridership and population.

The NTD is available here on FTA’s website, along with instructions for use. We encourage you to use it to better understand public transportation in the U.S.

Photo of bus, ferry, metro car and street car, all modes of public transportation

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Instead of cars driving as individual units on highways, automated driving systems (ADS) allow cars to connect and exchange information, enabling coordinated movements. That can mean more capacity on roads, and faster, more efficient travel.

In one study, a car platooning proof-of-concept with five Cadillacs with automated longitudinal control was tested and evaluated at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a U.S. Army test facility in Maryland.

The study was conducted by experts from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC), U.S. DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, and the Aberdeen Test Center.

“We are focusing on the cooperative side of automated driving systems,“ said Taylor Lochrane, PhD, Cooperative Automation Research Program technical manager at TFHRC. “If vehicles can communicate with each other and the infrastructure, we can use that capability and coordinate traffic more efficiently and save our economy billions in wasted time and fuel.”

How Automated Driving Systems Enable Car Platooning

For a vehicle to platoon, an onboard computer is  connected to a vehicle-to-vehicle communications device that receives and transmits data using Dedicated Short-Range Communications.

“By adding connectivity between cars, we can manage traffic with clusters of vehicles instead of individual vehicles,” said Wassim Najm, PhD, chief of Advanced Vehicle Technology at the Volpe Center. “With better traffic management, we can improve mobility.”

At the Aberdeen site, the test cars successfully shared information, such as whether they needed to speed up or slow down to follow the lead vehicle at a desired distance. Najm’s team piloted the technical and analytical work for testing and evaluating the car platooning proof-of-concept.

“We built the test procedures for the track to test the vehicles using vehicle-to-vehicle communications,” said Najm. “We now have a better understanding of the performance parameters and the test procedures needed for advancing car platooning technology.”

Lochrane’s team programmed the onboard computers with platooning algorithms developed by FHWA and partners from earlier projects. Vehicle computers control braking and acceleration, and also take in radar data—part of adaptive cruise control—to create Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control.

“The followers follow the vehicle in front and listen to all the other vehicles in the stream and that’s how they all communicate—the computers are able to compute the current and predicted trajectory of the vehicle to maintain their position,” said Lochrane.

Image of five vehicles platooning in a line.

A group of self-driving cars successfully formed a platoon during a field test at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a U.S. Army test facility in Maryland. (FHWA photo)

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Transportation is a lifeline for residents of tribal communities. Residents in these communities often must travel many miles to reach jobs, healthcare and other basic services.

That’s why the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded nearly $5 million in grants to help tribal communities provide public transportation on tribal lands.

FTA’s Tribal Transit Program makes funds available to federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaskan Native villages, groups or communities to support capital projects, operating costs and planning activities for public transportation services on and around Indian Country.

By improving their transit options, tribal communities can better connect residents to jobs, education, healthcare and other services. Learn more about the Tribal Transit Program in our latest video.

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The United States’ 100 ports are essential drivers of the American economy providing $1.5 trillion in U.S. foreign trade and nearly 400,000 jobs. The Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) is a good example of the impact ports have on the nation’s economic growth and sustainability.  

I recently had the opportunity to visit Port NOLA to get a firsthand look at their operations. The Port of New Orleans handles about 62 million short tons of cargo a year. To put that into perspective, the amount of cargo that they’ve unloaded could fill the Superdome more than five-and-a-half times.

Port of New Orleans

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As we prepare for the holidays, I want to thank you again for welcoming a new team and for your work to advance the Department’s mission for our country.  Together, we accomplished a great deal!

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WASHINGTON – In late-breaking news, the U.S. Department of Transportation has approved an application submitted by a Mr. Kris Kringle (d/b/a “Santa Claus”) for special air transportation operating authority.

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Earlier this month, the Motorcycle Advisory Council (MAC) – a new federal committee created to advise the Federal Highway Administration – met at the National Highway Institute in Arlington, Va., for its inaugural meeting. As directed by Congress, the MAC’s task is to identify engineering-related infrastructure solutions that can reduce fatalities involving motorcyclists. This is no small endeavor. Data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 5,286 of the 37,461 roadway fatalities in 2016 involved motorcycles – representing a 5 percent increase over the previous year.

The MAC consists of ten members selected by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. These men and women come from across the country and are experts in a wide range of motorcycle-infrastructure topics. Each is a motorcyclist and, combined, the MAC members have over two centuries of riding experience. The meetings are open to the public and, for the first meeting, additional attendees were present including representatives from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the Motorcycle Industry Council, Dynamic Research, Harley Davidson, Squire Patton Boggs and the Motorcycle Riders Foundation. 

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During this busy holiday travel season, there are various resources on the FAA’s and DOT’s websites that will help make your flight safer, smoother, and more enjoyable.

Know Before You Go.

Before going to the airport, always check your airport status and delays. The FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center offers real-time flight delay information at many of the largest airports. 

Can I pack this?  

To answer that question, the FAA has advice that will help you pack your bags with safety in mind.

Passengers may not realize that a number of everyday toiletry and electronic items they may pack in their baggage may be considered hazardous material when they’re carried on a plane. E-cigarettes (vaping devices), spare batteries for your electronics, nail polish, hair spray, and other common items are hazardous.

The FAA recommends that passengers carry their portable electronic devices in their carry-on bags whenever possible, instead of in checked luggage.  The FAA forbids spare lithium batteries and e-cigarettes in your carry-on luggage. They are always forbidden in checked baggage.

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The U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center will welcome Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Age Lab, on December 13 at noon ET as part of its speaker series The Ongoing Transformation of the Global Transportation System.

The Ongoing Transformation of the Global Transportation System continues the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s long history of convening thought leaders, decision makers, and stakeholders from across the global transportation enterprise to anticipate future transportation issues, generate fresh approaches to emerging issues, anticipate transportation trends, and inform decision making.

As the private sector drives innovation across all modes, there is potential for dramatic impacts on the safety and efficiency of the future transportation system and the composition of the nation’s transportation workforce.

Register now to join Joseph F. Coughlin of the MIT AgeLab on December 13, by webinar or in person, at the U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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