Announcer: The following research is part of the National Institute for Congestion Reduction funded by the United States Department of Transportation through the University Transportation Center program. Learn more www.nicr.usf.edu
Wayne Garcia: Welcome to Out of my Lane, podcast of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I'm Wayne Garcia. You're host today. We want talk about mobility as a service to you, to the community and how it plays a role in a program called the Tampa Bay Smart City Alliance. And I have with me two folks who have partnered on multiple research endeavors at the Center for Urban Transportation Research or CUTR. First is Dr. Sean Barbeau; he is the Principal Software Architect for Research and Development at CUTR at USF. Hey Sean. Good to have you here.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Hey Wayne. Thanks for having me.
Wayne Garcia: And Brandon Campbell is the Smart Mobility Manager at the City of Tampa. Brandon. Welcome.
Brandon Campbell: Thanks Wayne, glad to be here.
Wayne Garcia: I'm gonna assume that that that's a manager of smart mobility, not a mobility manager who happens to be smart; although you happen to be pretty smart. I've, we've had a conversation before.
Brandon Campbell: Thanks. I appreciate that.
Wayne Garcia: Brandon's role at the City is in the Transportation Management center. And so, everything transportation. If you're in the City of Tampa, he probably has had some role in it all the way from the management and operation of traffic signals to all of the planning that goes into moving around more than a million people in, in the greater area, many of whom come through the City of Tampa, especially at drive time, which is when I just came through. Which reminds me, we start all of our episodes with asking our guests, what's your daily commute to work? Like, I'll start with Sean. Sean, what's your commute like?
Dr. Sean Barbeau: So Wayne, mine's pretty easy these days. I basically get up and outta my bed and then walk over to my desk. So since the start of the pandemic, I've been telecommuting most of the time and it's really been great. It's a huge time saver. I'm able to spend that time doing things instead of sitting in my car and traffic.
Wayne Garcia: You know, it's interesting. And there's some people who love that. Do you miss it?
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Some days. And there's certain opportunities still to get together and, and, go back to more traditional environment. But, but by and far, once you save those 30 minutes, an hour, 30 minutes each way, an hour a day, it's kind of hard to let that go.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah. I think at some point we're gonna have to do a whole episode sort of on how the world is gonna change because we've had this enforced telecommuting and everybody said, " I definitely wanna telecommute." And I think some people found they really loved it. And then. I think some people found they really hated it. So I think that'd be a great episode coming up down the road. Hey, so Brandon, what's your, what's your commute like?
Brandon Campbell: Well, it varies, but often I do actually like to ride the bus into the city. I live east of, the city limits and just yesterday I was testing out our mobility as a service application and how the transit system plays into that. So it worked out really well to park and ride and then walk from my final bus stop into the office.
Wayne Garcia: That's great. You killed two birds with one stone. You get to, you get to get to a job without paying four and a half dollars a gallon for the gas. And at the same time, you're testing this app, which we're gonna get to, but let's start with the, the larger, what is the Tampa Bay Smart cities Alliance? Brandon, you could start us
Brandon Campbell: Sure. So Tampa Bay Smart Cities Alliance is a coalition of academic, public and private partners in the Tampa Bay area. That is dedicated to regional priorities in our transportation system. And it came about really as, as a response to some of our efforts with the USDOT's Smart Cities Grant Program that we were in that highly recommended group for, but did not receive and, and getting some of the feedback from DOT one of the areas for growth for us was in regional coalitions. So this was a great opportunity for us to get together and say, "Hey rather than working in silos, rather than working on initiatives. That may be duplicative from one agency to the next, let's look at these things holistically people don't recognize when they cross over a jurisdictional boundary per se, and let's look at and see how we can pilot some initiatives and then roll them out as a region.
Wayne Garcia: It's interesting. Regional cooperation has been an issue that I covered as a journalist for the30+ years that I've been in this area. And for those who are not familiar with the Tampa Bay region, you know, we've got two, three really major cities: St. Pete, Clearwater and Tampa, as well as a number of other cities.
Wayne Garcia: But, our two major sort of urbanized areas are separated by a body of water, Tampa Bay, which is also part of the mobility issue, because we now have several cross bay fairies, either operating or under consideration to move people. So water's a real travel option here for some people, but it's been very difficult because the regions are somewhat competitive. They're competitive for jobs. They're competitive for federal funding. They're competitive for political power. And for a long time, there were two different newspapers that served each side of the bay. Now, of course, you know, we're very fortunate just to even have one, some places have none. Sean, how, how did you get into the Tampa Bay Smart Cities Alliance
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Yeah. So the it's a, it's an interesting story. And it goes back to what Brandon was talking about, kind of looking to work together between the, the university and, and the city to apply for some of these federal grant opportunities that are out there. And we realized that you know, when these grant opportunities come up and maybe one, every few years, there's kind of this mad scramble for everyone in the region to get together and understand what everyone else is working on and how you can collaborate and put together kind of a cohesive proposal. And we realize that instead of kind of doing this sprint, you know, every time one of these, opportunities comes up, it would be good to have some kind of cohesive coalition and framework where these agencies could have kind of this ongoing conversation. And established priorities that would let us work together with kind of an ongoing mission in mind, as opposed to kind of shorter milestones.
Wayne Garcia: How formal is the organization? Are there member governments and organizations? I think like, you know, the, the planning councils have gotta be in it. The MPOs have gotta be in it, all those kind of different groups looking at it. How is it structured?
Brandon Campbell: Yeah, it's definitely less formal than that. We have a core group that meets and discusses our initiatives every week. But then from there we try to do quarterly workshops to invite stakeholders in the area to come and give updates on the initiatives to talk about new initiatives and to just brainstorm together.
Wayne Garcia: So, really a networking framework, definitely for all the people working on these same parts of the elephant, but feeling a different part of the elephant as it were.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: And it's intentionally very lightweight. We, we realized kind of think early on like getting into like heavy governance structures and MOUs and things that require a lot of signatures and lawyers and legal review is just kind of slow, is gonna slow things down and there other mechanisms for doing that when you get into projects and partnerships, but we wanted kind of a really lightweight agile framework that would let us react quickly, especially since a lot of this is focused on technology and technology moves so quickly these days that should really keep up, you need to be agile.
Brandon Campbell: We're trying to avoid bureaucratizing our coalition.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Yes, that's a good way to put it.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah. I mean, there's already a lot of transportation organizations all the way from the, the bus system operators, transit system operators to a larger Tampa Bay regional transportation authority. There's a full alphabet soup available already.
Wayne Garcia: So what's, what's the goal of this, group of people who really are where the rubber meets the road. So to, I didn't really mean to say that, I guess I should, you know, but what's the goal?
Brandon Campbell: The goal is again, to identify regional priorities and make us competitive as a region to to get grants and to, to bring real solutions to transportation issues. So bottom line is we wanna make transportation better in the region, and we're looking for ways to do that cooperatively.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: And one of the core tenants is what we have been calling ideas to action. So kind of focused on actually deploying things and and then also very organically as well. So if we can identify that if there's three different agencies in the greater Tampa Bay area that are all kind of focused and deploying the same thing, there's ways to leverage different partnership opportunities so that you can effectively have one larger deployment instead of a smaller fractured deployments, which may not communicate with one another with depending on what technologies you're talking about. And so ends up, producing kind of a more seamless regional approach.
Wayne Garcia: Is there a larger plan sort of driving this? And I asked that because some people listening might assume, "Okay, that it it's a good organization to go seek road construction dollars," but that's such a, a one piece of a larger, full puzzle. So what is that full puzzle and, and how do you all decide which pieces to pursue?
Brandon Campbell: So, deciding which pieces to pursue is really, I think Sean's said it best. It's more of an organic process working together. I will say though, that we have identified at this five different areas to focus on. And, and one of those being. I guess I'll call it more of a catchall in that it is reimagining infrastructure, but we have, have worked on piloting work zone safety mobility as a service, a common, common data platform. And we're trying to focus again at this point on cyber security, which is more of an issue that's woven throughout.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah. When, when you talk about data, so all these organizations that run like what you do, but for the city of Clearwater and this City of, of, Bel air and, and, Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, Plant City, Temple Terrace, y'all's data doesn't necessarily talk to each other. Correct?
Brandon Campbell: Correct. That's it doesn't necessarily talk to one another, they are somewhat interoperable. And so there are tools for us to try to work together, especially when it comes to, you know, a signal system that might cross, a jurisdictional boundary going from one system to another. We do use some sort of common language where we can coordinate and, and, and collaborate on, on those specific types of, of, situations.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Yeah, I think, kind of a good example of, of things that we're targeting with the Alliance are kind of more next generation types of, of traveler applications. And so I think the work zone data exchange is a really good example where historically all these agencies, if one particular agency owns a sidewalk or a road, they're the ones that internally have a process set up where they can, they may have spreadsheets or databases to say this particular areas gonna be under construction for this long and here's the latitude and longitude and, and the boundaries, but then getting that, sharing that information between agencies and then also kind of more broadly these days with Google maps, Apple maps, so that when you're planning a route from point a to point B, you'll actually know. Are you going to be encountering a work zone? Those are are problems that are kind of at a much bigger scale, and that we're hoping to target those with things like data standardization. So in this common data platform where then if all the data is, it could be any format internally to the agency. But if the agency is able to transform that into a standardized format, then everyone can talk to each other. Different agencies can see other agencies work zone information, and then ultimately you get it on your phone and Google maps or apple maps when you're driving.
Brandon Campbell: And some of those processes can be more automated because they are speaking exactly the same language and, and our protocols are the same.
Wayne Garcia: Are, are we in a golden age of transportation data? I mean, I think about, you know, not only sort of traditionally embedded things in roads that tell you somebody passed over this or whatever, but now we have everybody carrying geolocated, GPS phones, and that kind of thing. So how much of the future of mobility and transportation is, is data?
Brandon Campbell: A lot, I would say, I think that's a, that's a fair question. I think that's a, a good term to use a golden age for transportation data. I'll say that our traditional approach has been to do exactly what you said to put sensors in the pavement, even evolving to radar detection on the side of the road, and to try to get direct data from the cars that are on the roadway, as it has evolved, we are more using crowdsource data using probe data other available data sources that can be purchased and anonymized formats at a much greater cost to scale than putting sensors in the pavement.
Wayne Garcia: So like, if you're using Waze or Google Maps or Apple Maps or any of the transportation type of apps that data can be available to researchers, which is a good thing.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Yeah, absolutely. And I think everything, we were just talking about the work zone data, but also just the transit data, what transit route are running, which that there's open standardized formats for that now as well, which can be leveraged then in the mobility as a service app. So that that's an easy way for the app providers to then integrate the transit data into those apps. So I think we're, I think one of the ways that I view it is that we're in a golden age data, but we're not yet to the golden age of information in some ways. And that's, I think part of the problems that we're trying to tackle with the Alliance and the, the common data platform and, and, you know, other regions are as well where you can, you have the data's out there it's being generated, but then transforming that into, into the, the form
Wayne Garcia: of wisdom...
Dr. Sean Barbeau: into wisdom
Wayne Garcia: to knowing something
Dr. Sean Barbeau: exactly. And, and getting it into the hands of the people that need it kind of when they need it is, is still something that's I think a work in progress.
Wayne Garcia: Well, that's a good segue to this application mobility as a service or MOSS. And this is the second time you all have mentioned it. So what is that?
Brandon Campbell: So mobility as a service is really this idea that you can combine different mobility, segments, or different trip segments into a common platform to be used all at once.
Brandon Campbell: And I'd say the aspirational vision of, of mobility as a service is: hey, you've got this application on your phone. You subscribe to a certain level of service, which might include scooters. It might include bus. It might include, it might even include airfare eventually, but if you have a subscription that you can just say, "I, I don't wanna buy a bicycle. I don't wanna buy a car. I don't wanna buy whatever mobility. I just wanna buy the ability to get around." So we have taken that sort of aspirational vision, and we are piloting some more baseline functionality that is getting us toward that goal, which is going to tie together some of our scooter transit first mile, last mile information parking for the purposes of park and ride and put it all in one place with a little bit of additional payment functionality to get those people who are interested in sort of bringing all of those things together in a common place to get their eyes on it, to get it used and to hopefully take from there incrementally toward that ultimate vision.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah. Because if I think about it, I, I was like, well, I, I don't use a lot of transportation apps, but I'm like, yes, I do. I have, I have Park Mobile to park. I, I have Google Maps and Waze and Apple Maps, which I don't really use very much. Thank you, Apple, but so sort of a one stop shop. For people who want to, who want to get mobile and maybe don't want to have 10 apps or figure out 10 apps or make 10 different payments and link this credit card to all these different things. Where, where is it at in terms of the full, the narrative arc of the life of this app? You said it's being piloted where, how many people and, and what do we know so far?
Brandon Campbell: So I, I think we mentioned that under the Tampa Bay Smart Cities Alliance, we're doing a pilot with the, really the intent to prove its viability and potentially roll out from there. And we right now have signed a contract. We've negotiated a scope of work. And we're just about to the point of releasing and marketing the application with a company called MoveIt, for a 15 month pilot. That is the contract is directly with the city, but it's funded in part by the city and in part by FDOT. And really is being deployed within the umbrella of the Smart Cities Alliance
Dr. Sean Barbeau: And, and kudos to Brandon and his group, because that, that, that may not sound like a lot, but that encompasses a ton of work of working with the provider to get all these data formats that we were talking about to them and get all this integration set up so that you can have kind of everything in one place, if not a, a one stop shop, at least a first stop shop where everything is presented in a format, that's easier for people to discover as they wanna move around Tampa.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah, cuz we don't, we don't have a mobility apps or a store here in, we're not that big a city yet. Well, we're big enough. What do we know about our Tampa Bay traffic then based on what we've started to put together and how much hope do you have to really make a big difference in 10, 20 years, whatever that timeframe.
Brandon Campbell: That's a big ask. I would say that our, our traffic is not going away because we have more and more people moving to the area. And sometimes traffic is indicative of good problems. People want to be here. And that is a good thing. So mobility is a service in itself is really one part of our, of our attempt and our plan to, to manage congestion in terms of how it will impact directly what our congestion levels are. I don't even know that's part, that's part of why we do a pilot doing the pilot.
Wayne Garcia: That's why we do the pilot. Exactly. And, um, and so. Sean, what's a win in this pilot research look like for you?
Dr. Sean Barbeau: So I think a win is, you know, getting it out there and just understanding how people use it and how people react to it. And I think one of, one of the tenants of the Smart Cities Alliance has been to do these things to actually do the action part. Like we were saying the ideas to action. So I think any action here is a win and we'll, we'll learn something from it, absolutely going forward. We may not even know what that is, but it's something that we will learn. And then based on whatever we learn, that'll get us closest to, you know, making it easier for people to get around Tampa Bay.
Wayne Garcia: How much of this whole equation is behavior?
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Yeah. That's a great question. You know, the people, part of it is always a very hard problem to solve, I think is you can also provide things to people, but it's up to them, you know, whether they use it or not. So, so yeah, it's a great question. I think there's, it's a complex puzzle. I think it's, transit plays a huge part of mobility as a service and fully in the Tampa Bay area. See increased funding levels to provide better bus service as well, which will certainly be a piece of helping people get around. That's a good question.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah, that's the toughest question of, of the whole equation. If people want to participate in the pilot to get this app, once it's out there, should they watch your website or the CUTR website? We'll put it on podcast website as well, but how will they know?
Brandon Campbell: We're gonna push out some information from the city in a marketing campaign here in, I'll say within the coming weeks, I'm not sure exactly what the kickoff date of that's going to be, but even now, you can go and download the MoveIt application from your effective app store, whether it's Google or Apple. And it's, that's the application that we're using. We are putting our resources into developing specific and targeted functionality in the Tampa Bay area, but they already have the application with some functionality within our area right now.
Wayne Garcia: Okay. So let's MoveIt. The app at your favorite app store. One of the other things you mentioned as we talked about all the things that the Smart Cities Alliance is looking at is cyber security, which, I never really think about when I'm driving along in my car that like this is a cybersecurity issue. What, what is the issue with cybersecurity and transportation?
Brandon Campbell: I, I think the question should be what are the issues with cybersecurity and transportation? Because we've got a lot of devices that are connected. And from my perspective, anything that's networked is hackable. It just is a matter time and how, how much, how much value someone places in that target. And Sean and I have talked a lot about some of his research into the hackability or the, the, the vulnerabilities that we've got within our transportation system. And so whether you're talking about an application or a hardware device or a network device, we just are looking for ways to shore up our vulnerabilities to, to look at the, I think they call it the three-legged stool approach, which is monitoring protection of, existing vulnerabilities and restoration if something does happen. But you think about a traffic signal. And if someone got, got into a traffic signal software and did bad things to a traffic signal, it's. It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to think about things that, that could go wrong with that.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah. I think there was an entire Diehard movie ... one of the many, many, yes. That unfortunately now with Bruce Willis, we won't have anymore, but, yeah, they hacked the system. Traffic is at a, at, is at a gridlock and the chaos that would ensue is worse than I guess, traffic systems going out entirely. We sort of feel like if there's no light, we have to take care of each other. But if somebody's messing with us, that's a whole different thing.
Brandon Campbell: Well, thankfully I don't think it's quite as easy as Diehard would make it look. Yeah, but we are still trying to look at our. Our vulnerabilities from minor to major and, and, address those as we find them.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Yeah. And, and I think the Italian Job, I think, was the movie that has the famous, like green on green scene. And I, I know, like in doing deep dives, one, one of the things that made me feel better about our current level of security is that there, our, our actual hardware constraints in the traffic signals, which would prevent like the green on green scenario. So that made me sleep a little bit better at night, but I think like it, it's an inherent problem of trying to modernize all of our systems that a lot of these traffic controllers and traffic lights have been deployed for decades. And when you try to upgrade things, a lot of the times you can't upgrade the entire system at once. So then people look at like, well, how can we incrementally upgrade? Which means adding networked devices, which may have things like wireless connections, cellular connections into networks that were intended and designed to be closed networks. So once you kind of open that door, just a crack and which is can't stand still with technology either. So you have to move forward. So it's. It's more of understanding, how do we try to minimize the risk and our level of exposure when we open start opening these doors and moving forward and deploying new technologies, because like just sitting, standing still isn't an option either. So it's a careful balance between the two.
Brandon Campbell: Yeah. And I will add, I don't mean to say that we're an open book. It's not that easy, but we do want to be very vigilant about what could happen.
Wayne Garcia: Yeah. The, if, if something can be hacked, it's gonna be hacked. I know we've seen that with power grids and all, all of our other public amenities. Transportation has to think about that as well, especially if you're gonna operate trains and buses and and airplanes. So that's the Tampa Bay Smart Cities Alliance here. A lot of cities are doing sort of similar type of things. I assume, but how, how groundbreaking is this one?
Brandon Campbell: I, I don't know. I mean, I know that we have some uniqueness in our setup and our planning agencies and opportunities that sort of arise as a result of how we are put together as, partner agencies that may not replicate to other areas. But I know that regional coordination is an issue that becomes more and more important, the larger that you grow. So I assume that there are others that are doing very similar things.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: I think again, it's kind of the problem inherent in technology, which is kind of what we've been focusing in, the Smart Cities Alliance, kind of the smart part of it. And, and I think it's, yeah, it's the problem everyone's grappling with is technology's moving so fast these days. I think historically the transportation system is used to kind of planning 10, 20, 30 years ahead, and that there's a place for that, but there's also needs to be a place for the more agile approach to, to technology deployment.
Wayne Garcia: So, and this is that agility, and it's great to see. Sean, Brandon, thank you for coming in and talking to us about the Tampa Bay Smart Cities Alliance, which I'm sure is something that people who live in this region for the most part, have no idea is going on and that's helping move their lives to a better place when it comes to mobility and transportation. Thanks a lot.
Brandon Campbell: Thanks, Wayne.
Dr. Sean Barbeau: Yep. Thanks, Wayne.
Wayne Garcia: All right, and thank you for joining us at the Out of My Lane podcast from the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida. I'm Wayne Garcia. We'll see you next episode.
Announcer: The National Institute for Congestion Reduction, NICR, is a transportation research center focused on innovative congestion strategies. The center is composed of researchers from the University of South Florida, the University of California, Berkeley, Texas A & M University, and the University of Puerto Rico - Mayagüez, and funded by the United States Department of Transportation. For more information, please visit www.nicr.usf.edu.