DETROIT – Transporting people and goods is a growing concern for urban planners, particularly as the world population rises and infrastructure in developed nations crumbles.

Panelists at a "Smart Mobility" session at the 2012 SAE World Congress here present their views, some more radical than others.

Noting gasoline-tax revenue is not keeping up with cost of maintaining roadways in the U.S., Andreas Mai, director-North America Automotive Practice for Cisco, proposes a variety of scenarios, including charging drivers a fee to use certain roads depending on the traffic level and condition. Drivers would be charged more to use a road at peak travel times, for example.

Mai also proposes in-vehicle monitoring technology, which already is offered by some insurance companies, that penalizes bad drivers and rewards good ones.

"I think we all have the right to road rage," he tells SAE attendees, adding that everyone pays the price for bad behavior behind the wheel. A system of pay-as-you-drive insurance would reward good drivers with a lower rate.

However, Mai concedes there are privacy issues with so-called black-box data in vehicles and that drivers would have to opt-in to use the technology.

Additionally, Mai advocates devices that help prevent traffic accidents, noting his teenage son recently was involved in a vehicle crash that caused $5,000 worth of damage. "I would pay for a device in my vehicle that helps my son keep track of what he's doing."

Nissan is exploring technologies to make driving safer and less stressful, says panel-member Takao Asami, Nissan corporate vice president.

The auto maker already offers a variety of technologies, such as its Around View Monitor, providing a simulated overhead view of a vehicle, and lane-departure prevention, which can intervene to prevent a crash, automatically directing a wandering car back into its intended lane.

A dynamic route-guidance system, already introduced in Beijing and Tokyo by Nissan, has shown a 20% reduction in driving time. But it hasn't incorporated traffic levels. However, the auto maker presently is working on a “City Congestion Cancellor Concept” that does factor in traffic, Asami says.

The concept includes traffic forecast data and smart traffic signals that communicate with vehicles to maximize flow through intersections.

Chris Borroni-Bird, director of General Motors’ EN-V program, says the auto maker’s small, autonomous-transport mobile and the company’s vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology could help deal with traffic issues in urban areas.

"The individuals who own or use the vehicle (benefit) because they'll be less stressed, (have) less expense, (be) more productive (and have) a more predictable travel time. And the benefits also accrue to the city," Boroni-Bird says.

"Cities are competing with each other for quality of life. Businesses want to attract people to live there. (But) nobody seems to be happy with the transport system in their cities, even in (cities with) the best transport systems in the world."

The second-generation EN-V, which debuted at the Beijing auto show this week, takes up about a third of the space used by a small car, Borroni-Bird points out, meaning cities could have smaller parking lots and more green space if residents owned one or used one via a car-sharing program.

The state of Oregon is pursuing an electrified-vehicle future, Lynn Peterson, the sustainable communities and transportation policy advisor for the governor, says. The government is taking advantage of any money it can find, including federal stimulus funds, to install EV charging stations across the state and up and down its urban corridor on Oregon's west side.

Peterson says there already are 800 EVs on the road in Oregon, most privately owned. About 600 of these are Nissan Leafs. "Our goal is to see 30,000 electric vehicles out on the roads in the next five to 10 years."

To meet its target, incentives will be necessary, she says, as well as more charging stations installed at work places. Oregon also is discussing ways to move away from a gas tax by employing a mile-based taxation system, as EV owners don’t use gasoline.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com