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The travel business has been heavily utilizing information technology for more than 20 years and is now utilizing it in a variety of ways; the transportation industry is a newer user. In both cases, technology is assisting businesses in meeting the challenges of changing surroundings and needs while also providing end-users with new options at a lower cost. The travel and transportation business spends about $35 billion on technology each year all across the world.

Across all networks, digitalization, wireless communication, and high-bandwidth networks are giving transparent and ubiquitous access to information. Cellular, paging, and satellite-linked mobile systems are reducing in size while increasing in power, providing information to the user directly. According to the Massachusetts-based Giga Information Group, the wireless industry in the United States would increase at a compound annual rate of 64 percent through the year 2000, when there will be 10 million subscribers. Increased simplicity of use is promised with smart cards, continuous speech recognition, and natural language understanding.

Information technology has been essential for reducing the cost of company processes, such as inventory reduction, better scheduling, reconfigurable infrastructure, and improved customer service. It is critical to internationally managed operations, which many regard as critical to the industry’s economic sustainability; it is also critical to any new distribution strategy, particularly ones that go directly to customers.

The Internet, a global network of over 34,000 networks, is evolving into the universal platform, allowing cooperative groups of users to communicate in dynamic, adaptable, and open ways. The number of people using the Internet has risen to 40 million. The number is increasing every nine months, and by the year 2000, it is estimated to be between 400 and 800 million, with over a million networks and 100 million connected PCs.

This expansion necessitates secure communications and networks, as well as disaster recovery and backup. These aren’t unique to the travel and transportation business, but they do have specific ramifications when the traveler’s personal privacy is at risk, distribution routes are interrupted, or mission-critical deliveries are involved.

The US Department of Transportation has been financing a program to build Intelligent Transportation Systems in collaboration with private sector enterprises and state and local governments (ITS). Advanced communications, computers, sensors, satellites, and information processing technologies are all integrated into transportation systems through ITS. “ITS technologies are no longer considered as science fiction, and towns across the country are adopting them to tackle today’s transportation concerns,” wrote US Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena.

He cites innovative traffic control systems that have reduced travel time by 15% and vehicle pauses by 35% in one California travel corridor. Minneapolis has raised rush-hour speeds by 35 percent and capacity by 22 percent thanks to better freeway management. The state of Oklahoma has decreased the cost of operating a toll lane by 91 percent thanks to automated toll collecting. According to Pena, ITS systems deliver these achievements for a fraction of the cost of building new roadways to attain equal highway operating performance.

Another example is the Department of Transportation’s successful testing of a computer system that allows 911 emergency dispatchers to receive information on hazardous material shipments straight from railroad dispatchers, considerably speeding up emergency response in the case of a collision.

The Department of Transportation has set a goal for most metropolitan regions to have a core ITS infrastructure in place within the next decade. According to Pena, this core infrastructure will employ the National Information Infrastructure’s new goods and services to provide accurate, timely, and trustworthy travel information to passengers regardless of their location or method of transportation.

In a foreword to a Harvard Information Infrastructure Project publication, ( “”As one examines ITS, it becomes clear that while it appears to be about vehicles on roads, rails, and in the air; in fact, it is primarily about information – and how travelers, shippers, and receivers use it,” Secretary Pena writes in “Converging Infrastructures – Intelligent Transportation and the National Information Infrastructure.” Indeed, one of the key ‘products’ disseminated over the National Information Infrastructure will be information about transportation and alternatives.”

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