The past is littered with well-intentioned but flawed transportation policies. I’ve seen freeways slice up vibrant urban communities, demand management policies that failed, energy policies that increased pollution and climate change, car-centric policies that left many disenfranchised and, more recently, flyover carpool lanes that cost billions with no effect on carpool formation.
These observations helped shape my decision to found the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies in 1991 and reaffirmed my focus on research that advances economical, sustainable, and equitable transportation. ITS-Davis, now the world’s leading university center on sustainable transportation, owes its considerable success to the hundreds of affiliated researchers who shared this passion and contributed expert, inspirational work over the past three decades.
Through ITS-Davis, I’ve seen many transportation advances. But nothing like the last few years. A storm of innovations is about to sweep through transportation, promising huge energy, environmental, and social benefits.
Three transportation revolutions—vehicle electrification, vehicle automation, and shared mobility—will change our cities, lifestyles, and much more. In anticipation of these changes, we launched our Three Revolutions (3Rs) initiative in 2016 to build the research foundation that will be needed to steer innovation toward the public interest. We’re hosting conferences that convene leading thinkers and decision-makers, conducting research on key challenges, and preparing succinct policy briefs for policymakers. We want to make sure that policy keeps pace with these radical innovations, to assure positive outcomes for society.
Our National Center for Sustainable Transportation (NCST), funded by a five-year U.S. Department of Transportation grant of $14 million, is both a reward for our accomplishments and a down payment for even more instrumental research. Led by ITS-Davis, this consortium includes research centers at University of California, Riverside; University of Southern California; California State University, Long Beach; Georgia Tech; and University of Vermont.
Our Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS) program, now completing its third, four-year cycle, is also thriving. With sponsorship from 29 major companies and government agencies, it conducts interdisciplinary research on the transition to a sustainable transportation energy future for California, the U.S., and the world.
Our China Center on Energy and Transportation (C-CET)—in partnership with the California Air Resources Board and Chinese governments and universities—facilitates information exchange and knowledge-sharing to help shape that country’s rapidly evolving transportation energy sector. Our researchers have played a central role in informing the design of zero emission vehicle policies in China, and are expanding to other transportation challenges.
Our Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center is the leading global center for market research on the purchase, use, and charging of electric vehicles.
Despite the trauma around the world and policy breakdowns here in the United States, I’m more optimistic than ever about our transportation future. And I’m thrilled that our amazing team of faculty, researchers, students, and staff is playing a central role. It’s exhilarating, demanding, challenging, and rewarding.
Daniel Sperling, director