100% Renewable Transportation by 2045 – Hawaii is Leading the Charge

by Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Intern


In December 2017 Hawaii’s four Mayors committed to 100% renewable public and private transportation by 2045. Meaning all of Hawaii’s cars, busses, trucks and trains will use renewable energy as fuel.

The four mayors – Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe, representing Mayor Harry Kim – signed their respective proclamations, solidifying Hawaii’s status as a nation leader in renewable energy.

Hawaii has always been on the forefront of sustainability and in many ways is leading the nation. In 2015, Hawaii’s Governor David Ige signed into law a bill to reach 100% renewable energy consumption by 2045. In June 2017, another law was passed and Hawaii was once again the first state to commit to the Paris climate accord, despite President Trumps decision to pull the U.S. out of the agreement.

Despite Hawaii being the second in the U.S for electric vehicles sales per capita, Hawaii’s ground transportation still accounts for over a quarter of the states imported fossil fuel consumption as well as a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Exuberant gas prices due to the Islands geography and the high cost of importing oil are the reason many Hawaii citizens are readily accepting this act. Locals and leaders alike are hoping that renewable transportation will reduce the cost of living as well as attract businesses and create jobs.

Hawaii is the first state to commit to this goal, but other states including Massachusetts may not be far behind.

In September 2017, a hearing was held to consider the 100% Renewable Energy Act, which would put Massachusetts on the path to obtain 100% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2035, as well as heating and transportation by 2050.

The Bill (S.1849) passed the House on January 23 and is currently being referred to the joint committee on telecommunication, Utilities and Energy.

More than 40 U.S. cities and 100 global companies have committed to 100% renewable energy.

Uber, Lyft…Impacting Traffic and Economic Development

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator



People are taking Uber, Lyft or Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) more these days and often to avoid both parking and drinking and driving.  Although the majority of users are urban base, demand has been increasing in suburbia for Ubering.  TNCs have changed the way people get around and have impacted traffic in many cities.  If these types of rides are a pre-cursor to autonomous vehicles, the additional passenger trips will continue to increase and will also impact economic development.

A recent U.C. Davis study that included 4,000 users in seven major metro areas—Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., between 2014 and 2016 – points to cities increasing in passenger trips and in population, but transit rides and taxi trips decreasing.  The TNCs are the main source that are accommodating the increase in trips and in-turn causing more urban traffic congestion.

This study also found that around 50% of these trips would not have happened at all or would have been done some other way, via transit, walking etc…This coupled with the dead head time, when no passengers are in the vehicle, the TNCs are having a dramatic impact on vehicle miles traveled and congestion.

Currently New York City is the only major metropolitan city that mandates TNCs to report their travel data.  Other cities are able to obtain data but TNCs are not required to share it.  Being able to access and analyze this data can be the key to determining current and future traffic impacts.

Massachusetts passed legislation in 2016, creating a regulatory framework for TNCs. Speaking with Katie Gronendyke, Press Secretary, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the MA Department of Public Utilities Transportation Network Companies Division  does require some TNC travel data to be reported:

274.12: Reporting Requirements

(2) Annually, a TNC shall report to the Division the following: (a) By February 1st of each calendar year, a TNC shall submit a report for the number of Rides from the previous calendar year, including: 1. City or town where each Ride originated; 2. City or town where each Ride ended; 3. Aggregated and anonymized trip route and length (miles and minutes); and 4. Location of Vehicle accidents;

(b) By March 31st of each calendar year, a TNC shall report its intrastate operating revenues for the previous calendar year. If a TNC fails to report its intrastate operating revenues to the Division by March 31st of any calendar year, the Division may estimate a TNC’s intrastate operating revenues. A TNC’s intrastate operating revenue shall include but not be limited to any Rider picked up at the following: 1. Airport; 2. Train station; 3. Bus terminal; or 4. Any other kind of port.

Keeping Skies Safe with Drones

by: Michael Plotnikov, Research Fellow

Integration of unmanned aircraft into our national airspace poses complex security challenges that regulatory agencies may not be entirely prepared to face. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has done an excellent job preserving safety in the national airspace, no comprehensive effort has been made to protect critical infrastructure from the air, or to determine how to prevent unmanned aircraft from being hacked and used for malicious purposes.

Unmanned aircraft in the form of radio controlled model aircraft have been around for many years. However, with the addition of innovations such as on-board processors, GPS receivers, cameras, and other sensors, this old technology has evolved into a cyber-physical system that has both expanded capabilities and vulnerabilities.

While new capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) are well-known, their vulnerabilities, especially related to hacking through communication links, navigation equipment, and malicious software are not well understood. In addition, vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure, particularly ground transportation to malicious UAS attacks should be thoroughly evaluated:

  • First, it is extremely important that technical measures be taken to prevent non-cooperative UASs from penetrating restricted areas by means of reliable detection, tracking, and deterrence. While most of the high-profile infrastructure objects are well-protected or difficult to access at the ground level, they are usually completely exposed to attacks from the sky. The increasing availability of small UAS and their greatly improved capabilities over recent years makes this vulnerability particularly dangerous.
  • Second, technical steps need to be implemented to ensure that wireless communication links used to guide and control unmanned aircraft are secure and cannot be hacked or jammed by hackers who intend to take over control of the aircraft. While the incidence of such successful hacks may indeed be less common, in relation to the general availability of UAS technology to a malicious party, hacking may be particularly dangerous as adversaries get access to a vehicle that is authorized to enter a restricted area and hence may not trigger a timely alarm as would be the case when entry occurs under the malicious control.

Two recent MassDOT research publications address the practices of drones and the impacts of drones around airports: The Practice of UAS in the Transportation System, developed by Research Affiliates Daiheng Ni and Michael Plotnikov, and Current Counter-Drone Technology Solutions to Shield Airports and Approach and Departure Corridors developed by Research Affiliates  Douglas Looze, Michael Plotnikov and Ryan Wicks.  Additional research is needed to determine what cyber-security based systems are available to preserve UAS security and prevent UAS hacking and cyber-attacks as well as what technologies are available to enable timely detection and tracking of unauthorized UASs. To this end, an initial step that should be taken is to conduct a study to determine the costs, capabilities, and limitations of readily available commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) cyber-security systems. From this, Jeff DiCarlo, Project Champion, MassDOT, will soon be kicking off The Application of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in Surface Transportation project.

A Big GHG Reduction – An Entire Bus Fleet Goes Electric

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for electric buses stations

Approximately 16,000 diesel buses were replaced with 16,000 electric buses, in the city of Shenchen, China.  This is the single largest replacement for electric buses to-date.  The mass overhaul included not only getting rid of over 16,000 diesel buses, it also included connecting over 500 charging stations and installing over 800 poles to charge the buses.

Not only are the environmental benefits big, with the reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions; the city of Shenchen has become a quieter city, less the bus engine noise.  The city is also on track for long-term cost savings, in the order of not relying on 75% of the bus fuel coming from fossil fuels.

The recently completed MassDOT project Zero Emission Transit Bus and Refueling Technologies and Deployment Status, championed by Lily Oliver, Office of Transportation Planning. This report summarizes the characteristics of three Zero Electric Buses technologies: 1) battery electric buses; 2) fuel cell battery electric buses; and 3) fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric buses, as well as relevant implementations in the U.S., through a comprehensive review of the available literature, an online survey of several transit agencies that have implemented or are planning to implement ZEBs, and interviews with transit agency representatives. The focus is on performance and cost characteristics of these technologies as well as implementation approaches, refueling strategies, and funding mechanisms.

Keeping the Friendly Skies Safe

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Image result for drones crashes

Drones are becoming less expensive and easier to purchase, which is increasing their use exponentially. As their use grows, so do reports of aviation safety incidents involving drones. In October 2017, last year a drone crashed into a small commercial plane over Quebec City. This crash was the first confirmed collision between a drone and a commercial plane in North America. The FAA now receives an average of 250 reports per month of drones flying close or in a restricted airspace around airports, this is nearly a 60% increase in reported incidents compared to a year ago.

A recent FAA study simulated the potential dangers of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUASs) or drones, to other aircraft and found that small drones can cause significant damage to other aircraft and more damage than birds of similar size. The study, conducted by researchers at Mississippi State University, looked at the damage a drone can do to vulnerable sections of a plane, including the engines, wing edges, windshield, and horizontal and vertical stabilizers. Video simulating the potential damage are shown on the report web site.

The FAA report also recommends technological solutions such as geofencing, which programs drones to prevent them from entering restricted airspace. Geofencing has already been implemented by numerous drone manufacturers and One Center Affiliates. Dr. Doug Looze and Dr. Michael Plotnikov at the UMass Aviation Center, recently completed a research report on other technology options for keeping airport airspace clear of drones.

Other recommendations from the FAA report include requiring UASs operators to follow current guidelines and restrictions, and enforcing those rules. In addition to the regulations mentioned earlier, drones are restricted from flying within 5 miles of an airport and from flying at night or at speeds over 100 mph. They are also required to yield the right-of-way to manned aircraft.  According to Forbes magazine, some drone operators in the U.S. have been fined in the range of $400 to $5500 for not following UASs regulations, and at least one has been convicted of a crime the pilot of the aforementioned incident was charged with reckless endangerment, after two people were injured by his falling drone.

Are Your Lights Iced?

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Image result for train rail flashing lights

Many highway and rail signals now contain Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The switch to LEDs was made because of its energy efficiency. However, a one side-effect of this efficiency is that the LED lights don’t give off enough heat to melt snow or ice on their own. This can lead to the lights being obscured during winter conditions which can create potential safety hazards. In 2016, for example, there was a crash in Windsor, Ontario where a school bus entered an intersection against a red light and ran into a car. The bus driver did not see the red light-an LED, because the light was obscured by snow. Fortunately, there were no major injuries during that crash. Early this winter, the Minnesota DOT worked to clean off LED traffic signals after snow obscured signals in the Twin Cities area of the MN Highway 36, leading to at least one serious crash and many near misses.

In 2014, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a report on LED traffic signal operations in snow conditions which suggested a number of proactive and reactive measures transportation departments can take to keep LED signal lights free from ice and snow. Reactive measures, employed after a snowfall, include manually cleaning the lights or spraying them with antifreeze, deicing spray or compressed air to clean them off. Each of these measures requires personnel to visit and work on each light. Proactive measures include installing signal lens heating elements or lens covers, or spraying deicing spray on the lights before it snows. As documented in the report, such proactive measures have had various degrees of success.

Two current research studies are testing new proactive approaches, both of which involve redesigning the LEDs lights used in traffic signals. Researchers at the University of Kansas have developed and tested self-de-icing LED technology and are now working on creating a full prototype for field testing. . Their approach is to mount the LEDs in the traffic signals “backwards” to harvest the heat generated by the LEDs to heat the light lenses and keep them above freezing. With this system, no additional heating is needed to prevent ice and snow from collecting on the traffic lights. The researchers have estimated that replacing the current LED lights with new LEDs will save about $28 per signal light annually, with a payback time of 4.5 years.

A second research study is looking at developing a super hydrophobic (anti-icing) surface coating for the lenses of traffic signals. The research is being conducted at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and is investigating femtosecond laser surface processing (FLSP) techniques for producing thin (nanoscale) anti-wetting surfaces on hard materials, such as tungsten carbide. Testing is being conducted find the best FLSP-functionalized hard material to use as a durable stamp for imprinting an anti-icing surface on the lenses of traffic signals. This study is scheduled to be completed later this year.

AASHTO’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program Problem Statements…2018!

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for NCHRP

It’s that time of year again when each state Department of Transportation agencies evaluate problem statements for AASHTO’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP).  MassDOT’s Research Section in the Office of Transportation Planning (OTP) will be looking for internal expertise to review and rate the 2018 problem statements.  The 2018 candidate projects include problem statements associated with a variety of subject matter categories including: Administration, Transportation Planning, Transportation Design, Materials & Construction, Maintenance, and Traffic.  Each year, Mass DOT strives to complete the rating of 100% of these proposed NCHRP Problem Statements.

Be on the look-out for the NCHRP problem statements and your involvement is very much appreciated.  Here’s an overview of NCHRP.

BTS Releases Pocket Guide to Transportation Mobile App

Source: Govdelivery.com

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2018

“Tuesday, January 9, 2018 – The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) has released a new dynamic mobile app for the Pocket Guide to Transportation 2018 – a quick reference guide to transportation statistics. This popular guide provides the latest transportation statistics at your fingertips in mobile app and printed formats.  The app covers data on major trends, moving people and goods, system use and performance, the economy, safety, infrastructure, and the environment. Download the app now to access all the features of the classic Pocket Guide plus enhanced navigation, sharable graphics to social media and email, and dynamic data updates to highlight the most recent up-to-date statistics. The app is available on the App Store and on Google Play (keyword: BTS Pocket Guide). To access the Pocket Guide, go to BTS Pocket Guide to Transportation or text USDOT BTSPG to 468311. This publication can also be obtained by ordering online, by contacting BTS by phone at 202-366-DATA or by e-mail at answers@dot.gov. For inquiries other than placing orders contact Dave Smallen: david.smallen@dot.gov or 202-366-5568. ”

Morning Joe to Help Buses Go

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow


Startup company bio-bean is collecting used coffee grounds from cafes, restaurants, and factories and turning them into a biofuel for powering London’s buses. Bio-bean is partnering with Shell and Argent Energy, the United Kingdom’s largest biodiesel producer, on this project. So far, more than 1,600 gallons of coffee fuel have been produced, enough to help power one city bus for a year.

The collected coffee grounds are dried and then the natural oils in the coffee (also known as caffeol) are extracted and blended with other fuels to create B20 biofuel, containing 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. This fuel can be used in standard diesel engines. According to the bio-bean web site, “Spent coffee grounds are highly calorific and contain valuable compounds, making them an ideal feedback from which to produce clean fuels.”


The coffee fuel initiative in London, the first in the world, is a demonstration project. Bio-bean is interested in expanding to other markets. One market with great promise: the U.S., where over 400 million cups of coffee are consumed each day.

Article source:  CNN (http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/20/technology/coffee-fuel-bus-london-bio-bean/index.html). This link also contains a brief video interview with bio-bean founder, Arthur Kay.


Mom, I missed the bus…..no you didn’t

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator


Chilly mornings can be dangerous to kids that wait for the school bus.  Until now, parents and students just assumed that if they weren’t at the bus stop in time, they had missed the bus.  Now there’s an app that tracks the location of the school bus and can also track when a child has boarded the bus and when they have gotten off.

The ‘Here Comes the Bus’ app is currently being discussed by many more School Boards.  This locator would prevent kids from waiting out in the elements for the bus that could have come early or might be delayed.  This app would provide parents and kids the location of the bus and allow them to meet it just as it arrives at the bus stop.

Another feature, which is optional, is the app can also alert parents when their child has gotten on and off the bus; assuring that they got on the right bus and that they are en-route.  This feature is up to the school boards to decide if they want it.