Change is the Only Constant: Incorporating Technology into Scenario Planning

Change is the Only Constant: Incorporating Technology into Scenario Planning

Departments of transportation increasingly use scenario planning to prepare for future changes that will affect the movement of people and goods. Scenario planning requires planners to prepare for a range of possible futures, considering topics like climate change, demographics, and emerging technology. Technological change is perhaps the most difficult issue to address given the wide uncertainty surrounding new mobility and the number of private operators involved in transportation.

EDR Group is currently working with the Texas Department of Transportation to help them adjust their travel modeling practices to account for emerging technologies. Our work considers the role of autonomous vehicles and teleworking on passenger vehicle and transit trip generation, as well as impacts on long-distance freight travel and local goods delivery. We consider these impacts under an expected scenario and optimistic scenarioboth with a 2045 horizon year.

Phases of Scenario Planning

Source: Next Generation Scenario Planning: A Transportation Practitioner’s Guide, June 2017, FHWA

Predictions for autonomous vehicles (AVs) vary dramatically in the media and in official planning documents. This is where scenario planning can help; instead of imagining a single future, we can generate ranges of possible impacts. For TxDOT, our expectation is that the future number of trips made by passenger AVs will vary according to (1) vehicle automation levels, (2) single vs. shared trips, and (3) urban vs. rural conditions. This is based in part on work EDR Group is currently doing to estimate the impacts and costs of AVs. By considering these characteristics of AV adoption, we can more easily predict what could happen by 2045.

The impact of new technologies on transit is even more difficult to predict. On the one hand, an increase in AV adoption could make vehicle trips more attractive and shift riders away from transit. On the other hand, transit agencies could provide more service—and attract more riders—if they can save on labor costs by adopting autonomous technologies. Labor cost savings could also enable transit agencies to deploy microtransit options that serve low-density areas where it is currently too expensive to provide high-capacity transit.

Teleworking will also affect the future number of passenger vehicle trips, especially those that are single-occupancy and contribute the most to congestion. While teleworking has existed since the 1980s when personal computers could connect to remote office networks, it did not become common until recently. To calculate teleworking’s future impact on vehicle trips in Texas, we identified the following factors: (1) the option to telework at least once per month, (2) the share of workers who primarily telework, (3) and the overall frequency of teleworking. How these factors vary will not only depend on advances in communications technologies, but also on future industry composition and whether occupations require in-person collaboration or not.

Freight Transportation


Long-distance freight travel and urban deliveries will undergo change in the coming years as connected and autonomous trucks and other delivery technologies revolutionize freight transportation. Adoption of new technologies by long-distance carriers is primarily driven by potential cost savings. Most cost savings will come from automating drivers, an impact that could ameliorate present-day concerns over driver shortages. Additional cost savings for carriers could come from the increased fuel efficiency that truck platooning promises to deliver.


Autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like drones, and continued growth in e-commerce will disrupt urban freight deliveries. Many UAVs have vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities, meaning they are especially effective in urban areas where space is limited. We assume that the extent of future drone adoption will vary according to (1) urban population density, (2) vehicle range and carrying capacity, and (3) vehicle cost. Drones will initially carry only small parcels in urban areas given their range and capacity limitations, but could eventually transport heavy goods in a variety of settings as UAV technology advances and distributed warehouses shorten delivery distances. More on EDR Group’s thinking around urban freight is covered here.       

Scenario Planning is Difficult but Necessary

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is known to have said that “change is the only constant in life.” Scenario planning is one way to prepare for constant change in transportation—whether that change comes from autonomous vehicles, UAVs, or some technology that doesn’t exist today. Using the tools of scenario planning, EDR Group will continue to help its clients make sound decisions regarding individual projects and policies in the face of significant uncertainty.

Click on the links below to learn more about EDR Group’s work on these topics.