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What’s the future of transportation?

We asked these entrepreneurial Northeastern students and alumni to predict how COVID-19 will change their field.

By Schuyler Velasco

Fostering efficiency through user-generated routing
School buses follow static routing tables that have been used for decades, and that results in a lot of inefficiencies. Buses take the same route every single day, no matter who is or isn’t taking the bus. Public transit works similarly. User-generated routing lets passengers indicate in advance, on the fly, that they need transportation. Then the routes and navigation are built off that. After COVID-19, you will see more flexibility in how bus routes are created. 
Keith Corso, D’Amore-McKim School of Business ’21
Co-Founder and CEO of BusRight, a route-planning, navigation, and communication app for school busing systems. Launched in 2017, BusRight has contracts with school systems in three states.

Making more space for bicycles
Pre-COVID-19, congestion was abundant. The ability to operate in bike lanes solved efficiency problems for a lot of these companies, especially one-off grocery delivery services where they’re stuck in traffic, spending time looking for parking, or getting tickets, which drives up operational costs. During COVID, cities started to shut down streets and thoroughfares to vehicles and accommodated restaurants and retail by giving them space out on the street. Cities are starting to recognize that we need to be more people- and bicycle-centric, and we don’t always need to have all of these streets available for vehicle and truck traffic. That’s a long-term trend that we’re going to see stick.
Ben Morris, D’Amore-McKim School of Business ’05
Founder and CEO of Coaster Cycles, which manufactures pedicabs and cargo delivery bikes for clients including Starbucks, DoorDash, Lyft, and Tesla.  

Investing in public transit
Forty thousand Americans die every year in traffic collisions, and thousands more die because of bad air quality as a result of traffic. Cars are really expensive; not everyone can access them. When we’re thinking about cities, land is very expensive and we devote so much of it to parking and streets. The future of transportation is one in which, along with the car, other options — biking, trains, buses — are realistically available so it’s easy to choose not to drive. It’s hard and counterintuitive, but now is actually the time to invest more in public transit, despite the fact that a lot of people aren’t choosing to ride it right now.
Michael Tormey, College of Engineering ’20
2020 Marshall Scholar, studying transportation engineering and urban development in the United Kingdom.

Understanding that cars are not going away
I know three separate people who live in Boston and purchased their first vehicle [this year]. Folks who live in an urban setting don’t want to rely on public transportation and Uber, and hopping in your car to head to the beach or the country is more valuable now than ever. How our riders and employees are getting to our locations and offsite events is changing, and it will be on our minds in how we plan and operate.
Jessica Fracalossi,
College of Arts and Sciences ’10
Founder of The Handle Bar, an indoor cycling studio with four locations in the Boston area.

Focusing on the last mile
Goods people need will come more from within a few-mile radius. How do you help these little stores and restaurants get directly to consumers and save their businesses? Can we make delivery easier for them? Until people feel comfortable traveling again, you’ll see companies like Uber focus on that ‘last mile’ delivery of goods and less on getting people to the airport.
Brian Schatz, D’Amore-McKim School of Business ’10
Former operations and logistics manager at Uber; V.P. of sales, Coaster Cycles.

Accepting autonomous cars
Government’s assessment of how AI is going to affect the U.S. economy and the rest of the world is largely focused on transportation, and it will be an autonomous, electric vehicle-driven future. I wish it was something else, like autonomous public transit. From an energy consumption standpoint, vehicles will be more efficient and fueled by electricity.
Liam Madden, College of Science ’12
Co-founder and development director of Green Gas, a nonprofit that raises money for carbon emission offsets. Green Gas was recently absorbed by the Atlanta-based GreenPrint.

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Schuyler Velasco is Experience's Senior Editor. 

 

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