Tampa transit system invests in smart tech for connected vehicles

Tampa is updating its traffic management system for the 21st Century. Funded through a $40-million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, the transit system upgrade will include new equipment, such as cameras, sensors, and fiber-optic cables, as well as software, to pave the road for a rollout of connected vehicles by 2020.

The city created the Smart Mobility Division in early 2018 to spearhead the implementation of the technology.

“Think of it as building a tablet on top of which we can run a smart city application,” says Vik Bhide, manager of the Smart Mobility Division.

The Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) is designed to steer the city’s transit system toward a smarter future, one in which vehicles wirelessly interact with other vehicles and their environment. Though not by definition autonomous, connected vehicles can communicate with other smart systems, with the goal to increase safety and efficiency. 

Through the updated system, Bhide also hopes to put more emphasis on alternative modes of transport, such as ride-sharing. 

“The mobility landscape is changing,” Bhide says. “For special events at the [Raymond James] Stadium and [Amalie] Arena, there's more emphasis on ride-sharing, such as Uber or Lyft pickup, than parking. It doesn't mean that demand for parking has dropped precipitously, but we're now having to ... consider both what's going on at the curbside as well as in the garage.”

Through ATMS, Bhide and his team aim to make the city safer and more resilient, from fortifying its infrastructure against cyber attacks to impacts of climate change. To address the latter, they’re planning to install flood sensors in flood-prone areas.

“The benefits to a transportation network and our citizens is significantly higher if we're able to predict negative outcomes and put in measures before they fester and become a problem,” he says.

2018 was a busy year for transportation in Tampa. The historic streetcar services were expanded, the Cross-Bay Ferry returned, and Hillsborough citizens voted to approve a one-cent sales tax hike to support transportation improvements.
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Dyllan Furness is a freelance writer and born-again Floridian based in Tampa. He covers the Tampa Bay Area’s development boom for 83 Degrees, with an eye out for sustainable and community-driven initiatives.