Traffic up, gas prices down: What the transportation experts see for 2023
Drone deliveries, decent gas prices, carpool lanes and another federal bailout for transit?
They're all percolating, according to three wise men and transportation experts offering predictions for 2023.
First at bat is DePaul University Professor Joseph Schwieterman with some aviation prognostications.
"A new generation of ultra-discount airlines, such as Fly Atlantic, will bring tremendous value to budget-minded travelers traveling to Europe," Schwieterman said. "Their presence will force established carriers, such as American and United, to steeply discount to remain competitive."
Also, "the impending merger of JetBlue and Spirit will raise concern among budget-minded flyers due to the transformation of Spirit into an airline like JetBlue, which has higher fares. But no major changes will occur until 2024," he added.
Meanwhile Northwestern University Professor Ian Savage warned of a deadly trend.
"Fatality rates per mile driven are going up for the first time in decades," Savage said. "This is despite all the advanced safety features now common on new cars."
"Pedestrians and cyclists are particularly victimized. It defies conventional explanations," he said.
"Are road users so distracted from their tasks and driving more aggressively? While I would like to predict the opposite, I suspect that there is no political or public appetite to do anything about this growing public health problem."
University of Illinois at Chicago Urban Transportation Center Director P.S. Sriraj expects ridership on Metra, Pace and the CTA, which tanked amid COVID-19, won't recover to 2019 levels next year.
Twitter's Elon Musk notwithstanding, "work from home is probably here to stay for most of the financial and tech services industry, which has a direct correlation with Metra ridership," Sriraj said.
Low ridership equals low revenues -- causing the Regional Transportation Authority to warn of a "fiscal cliff" and offer ideas to raise revenues in a recent strategic plan.
One would expand the sales tax base to services. That "would make it a lot more robust funding platform, but I doubt if the powers that be go in that direction," Sriraj said.
Congress approved a transit bailout during the pandemic and Sriraj expects another will occur. But "if it happens, it may come with a lot more strings attached."
There is some good news for drivers, said Savage, Northwestern's Transportation and Logistics Program director.
"Gasoline prices should continue to fall back to pre-pandemic levels as the global economy slows down. However, there is uncertainty if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates further."
But cheaper fuel means more traffic. Schwieterman predicts "rising traffic congestion on major urban interstate highways, particularly the Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways, will spur interest in new traffic-management options." Those could include "high-occupancy vehicle and bus lanes (for carpools) as well as peak-period tolls."
However, implementing that change would take years, noted Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.
He also predicts "the adoption of electric vehicles will face new headwinds due to supply-chain problems, concerns over the range of vehicles, and, above all else, a drop in the price of gasoline."
Sriraj has his eyes on the skies in 2023, a year he thinks may be a tipping point for drone activity.
"Already the health sector is using drones to deliver specific medical supplies and equipment -- that might become more prevalent," he said.
Sriraj referenced a Chicago startup company that has successfully tested locating mailboxes for drones in residential neighborhoods and is talking to the city about strategic locations.
After all, if hospitals can use drones to convey medications, are we getting close to Amazon delivering celery with the same technology?
"That would be the day," Sriraj said.
Finally, a conjecture from your columnist. A task force on Dec. 16 recommended transferring to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about 1,100 acres of land that IDOT bought to extend Route 53. The move would create a greenway and state park. That discussion will go into high gear in 2023, with some pushback.
Got a transportation prophecy for 2023? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.