Open Technology Is Key to Intermodal Transportation
Open-source technology is required to develop competitive sustainable urban transport systems. Flickr photo by B.J. Allen.

Open-source technology is required to develop competitive sustainable urban transport systems. Flickr photo by B.J. Allen.

Robin Chase, one of The City Fix bloggers and founder and former CEO of Zipcar, says that “open technology” is a key part of making intermodal transportation a reality.

“Users (people or freight) need to know the schedules, requirements, and opportunities, need to book capacity and to make payments seamlessly, not only between modes but between states and perhaps countries as well,” she says as part of an online panel for the National Journal’s transportation blog.

So what does “openness” mean for different technology platforms, information, devices, and networks?

Says Chase:

Open platforms mean that others can build on them and improve and extend them over time.

Open information implies portability. Are critical and common data elements being collected, passed on, and made available to enable or invite collaboration? Or is unnecessarily proprietary data being used to protect vendor relationships, stifling cooperation and competition?

Open devices can be multi-purposed by others when the owners of that device allow them access. Think about the thousands of applications on your computer or iPhone, as opposed to the single tolling application on your vehicle transponder.

Open networks would make unused excess capacity available to whoever might find it useful.

Read her comments here.

She also has a full blog post, “What’s Open Got to Do with It?,” that delves into this topic further.

Chase is now the CEO of GoLoco, an online ridesharing community. Her consulting firm, Meadow Networks, advises city, state, and federal government agencies about wireless applications in the transportation sector.

The Meadow Networks Web site explains the need for innovative wireless, open-source technology:

Can we get cities moving again quickly, equitably, and cost-effectively, with politically viable solutions that increase the number of winners?


Rather than relying on expensive, single-function, proprietary technology that lock in buyers and reduce flexibility, using open source applications and the wireless internet can leverage past and future communications investments, dramatically reducing costs, increasing flexibility, and minimizing technology risk.

For more information about this, read Robin Chase’s blog, “Network Musings,” and stay tuned for some of her posts on The City Fix. See her previous post, “Technology Recommendations for Congestion Pricing“.

The bottom line is that open technology keeps cities competitive through innovation. Ben Berry, chief information officer for the Oregon Department of Transportation, says that “open technology is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production.” (Download his very detailed PowerPoint about this here.)

WorldChanging elaborates on this concept in its post about something called the “Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems,” published by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

“Open” refers to connectivity, collaboration, access and transparency, “ICT” stands for information and communications technology, and “ecosystems” are the “policies, strategies, processes, information, technologies, applications and stakeholders that together make up a technology environment for a country, government or an enterprise.”

It’s a high-level concept that has significant implications for urban ecosystems, especially those in the developing world, WorldChanging says.

Open ICT systems are increasingly engines of innovation, and are clear catalysts for leapfrogging across the developing world, via reduced costs, potential for customization, and likely interoperability with both legacy and emerging technologies.

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