Common fodder for standup comedians - that men refuse to ask for directions - might be headed for extinction if developers of intelligent transportation systems have their way.
On-board navigational aids tied into urban traffic management systems are one of many market segments that officials throughout government and industry say are potentially worth billions of dollars.
Other growing markets include payment systems or electronic tolls, traveler information systems and traffic signal management devices that would alleviate congestion and warn motorists about road hazards.
Annual government spending is expected to reach $4.6 billion by 2005, according to a study conducted by Apogee Research Inc., a market research firm in Bethesda, Md., for the Washington-based Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the Electronics Industries Association, Arlington, Va.
Spending by the private sector likely will reach $29 billion a year by 2015. Over the next 20 years, Apogee expects spending to total $400 billion with $350 billion coming from the private sector.
In 1996, government spending on intelligent transportation systems was about $1.5 billion. Spending by the private sector was less than a billion, according to the study.
Before spending moves into the fast lane, all levels of government must build the needed infotech infrastructure, industry and government officials said last week.
The lion's share of spending over the next decade will be by the government as it develops and integrates more systems such as electronic toll collection, incident management and integrated traffic signals, said Matthew Hardison, senior vice president of Apogee. He spoke at a conference on intelligent transportation systems Feb. 11-12 in Arlington, Va.
"The private market potential will begin taking off between 2000 and 2005," he said. Private sector spending is expected in areas such as navigational aids, driver safety monitoring systems, Mayday equipment and obstacle warning devices, the study said.
Driving the need for the systems is congested roads, a daily fact of life for commuters. Seventy percent of urban interstates are congested during peak hours, said Lyle Saxton, a former official with the Federal Highway Administration, who spoke at the conference. Not only are the interstates crowded, but so are 44 percent of all the other urban roads, he said.
The old solution to congestion just doesn't work anymore, said Francis Francois, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "The response used to be to just build more capacity." Now environmental laws make building roads tougher, and "we are simply out of space in urban areas," he said.
Intelligent transportation systems can help alleviate congestion according to results of several programs around the country, Saxton said. For example, integrated signal control systems in Los Angeles and Abilene, Texas, reduced delays up to 44 percent.
While the bulk of spending will be by the private sector, government involvement is crucial to giving the market a boost, said Harry Voccola, vice president of Navigational Technologies, Sunnyvale, Calif.
"If we had no roads, would we have an auto industry?" he asked.
But to win congressional support, the fledgling industry must educate members in real-world terms and standardize the systems to ensure interoperability, said Peter Rogoff, minority staff director for the transportation subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. One bill to be proposed by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., will include a provisional deadline for industry to establish nationwide interoperability standards. If industry does not, then the Department of Transportation will set them, Rogoff said.
"Integration is the key," said Toni Wilbur, program delivery leader with the Federal Highway Administration. "If you have an in-vehicle device, you want to be able to use it in New York as well as in Seattle."
Federal money is going to New York City, Phoenix, San Antonio and Seattle as model cities to develop interoperability standards, Wilbur said. Seventy-five other cities are targeted for the next 10 years.