Every Innovation Starts With A Conversation

The city is the first in the nation to pilot paperless ticketing in its road projects. 

By Patricia Fitzgerald 

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As recently as a few months ago, John Vozzella, Chief Engineer for Boston Public Works, had never heard of e-ticketing, a paperless, digital process for tracking, documenting and archiving materials tickets.  

But this spring, Vozzella and his team will begin an e-ticketing pilot project, making Boston the first municipality in the nation to debut the technology. Implementing e-ticketing has the potential to exponentially increase efficiency for road construction projects. 

The idea, oddly enough, came from a contractor. The topic of this winter’s partners meeting was how to improve the tracking of trucks delivering materials to construction sites across Boston. 

Roger Fernandes, Director of Roadway, Utilities & Transportation Infrastructure Services at Briggs Engineering — which provides the city with inspection, testing and construction management services — suggested e-ticketing as a possible solution. He’d heard about it at a conference. 

“We know that John and his team are open to new technologies that will offer new benefits,” Fernandes said.  

Indeed, Vozzella understood the broad scope of e-ticketing’s benefits almost immediately. The potential efficiencies of tracking the delivery of materials digitally, as opposed to using paper tickets with carbon copies that have to be hand inputted, were compelling—and so were the safety benefits. 

“E-ticketing keeps the driver in the truck and keeps the product moving,” he said. 

Learning that one of the city’s regular contractors, D&R Paving, was already using a digital ticketing platform, Vozzella visited one of their job sites to watch it in action. 

“I thought it was wonderful, especially toward the end of the day, when the traffic is building and we’re expecting these trucks. To know exactly what’s on the road and headed in our direction, it was great information,” he said. 

Boston’s e-ticketing pilot is divided into two projects. The first one, managed by Senior Civil Engineer Sean Darden, had already been contracted to D&R Paving and will involve curb work, creating ADA-compliant pedestrian sidewalk ramps on a limited number of streets. This will lead to a more extensive, season-long resurfacing project – the second project.  

The e-ticketing process will be reviewed upon the completion of the smaller job to make any necessary procedural tweaks and then undergo a formal evaluation at the end of the season. But Vozzella already has high expectations for success. “We’re putting our best people on it,” he said. “I don’t expect any hiccups.”  

Pace of Change 

Since 2015, when e-ticketing was first promoted by the Federal Highway Administration in round three of its Every Day Counts program, more and more transportation agencies are moving to phase out paper tickets. However, the mass implementation of the technology really started to accelerate in 2021, when e-ticketing was specifically targeted in round six of the agency’s program. But given the large potential for efficiencies at stake, some question whether the transition is happening quickly enough. 

Highway construction is among the least digitized industries across the globe, according to research from McKinsey & Company.  

Even in Boston – a well-known tech hub – “there were naysayers,” said Vozzella. “We started this pilot with a contractor that does some work with MassDOT and thus has some e-ticketing experience. But more than half of the other contractors we work with are questioning what we’re doing and whether they want to be a part of it.” 

He and Darden had already encountered resistance to smartphone applications among some of the small- and medium-enterprise manufacturers and producers that bid on Boston area projects. “But we think that once they see e-ticketing in action, they’ll get it,” Vozzella said. 

Early on, Darden spoke with some of the superintendents at D&R Paving who confirmed e-ticketing is a great tool. “They showed me the interface on their devices and demonstrated how it helps them improve management of the materials delivery process,” he said. “There are so many aspects where this is going to help us during paving, knowing exactly what material has been delivered and put down. After paving, for billing, everything is at your fingertips.” 

Another big motivator is safety.  

“Truck drivers don’t have to get in and out of the truck on the job site; inspectors don’t have to reach up into the cab of a truck or get out of the way of a paver,” said Darden. E-ticketing is expected to reduce the potential for job site injuries. 

Improved coordination across the supply chain is another anticipated benefit. 

“It’s going to give us all a new and better comfort zone, especially as we share information,” noted Vozzella. “Today, a hard ticket has to be generated, scanned, filed and reviewed. Tomorrow, I can say, ‘Open your E-Construction Portal.’” 

A Gateway Technology 

Matthew Valle, Vice President of Industry Relations and Government Affairs for HaulHub, one of the earliest players in e-ticketing technology, is a partner in the Boston roll-out. He said Boston’s leadership should not be understated. “It takes a lot of fortitude to be first for anything in the public sector,” he said. “They are trailblazers.” 

While Boston gets deserved credit for its leadership on the municipal level, several other large cities are following close behind. Seattle, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles are all in various stages of e-ticketing deployment. 

It’s a great time for all partners in the highway construction chain to consider e-ticketing, said Valle, pointing to federal funding incentives provided through the 2021 Infrastructure and Jobs Act. In addition, e-ticketing provides critical operational efficiencies to compensate for the ongoing construction labor shortage, while appealing to a younger, tech-savvy generation of workers. This is critical with an expected 41% of highway workers set to retire in the next decade.  

“E-ticketing is a gateway technology,” said Valle. “We’re looking to a future where digitization will become more complex with heavier reliance on smart devices. Our job is to help keep it all simple and scalable. Make the digital entry point so easy—and so ubiquitous—that it’s easy to build upon.” 

The group expects Boston’s example to have ripple effects. “All across the Commonwealth and beyond, cities and towns look to Boston for innovative solutions—and for their help as a resource,” said Fernandes. “That’s our goal.” 

Patricia Fitzgerald is a freelance writer/editor based in Washington, D.C.