Building the Urban Mobility Networks of Tomorrow

Last July, I attended the #HarvardTech #InnovatorsForum accelerator program for Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) of the 20 most innovative cities in North America. Below is a summary of the talk I gave on the future of urban mobility and how public and private sectors must work together to deliver it. [Original version of this article is here.]

You don’t have to be the CIO of a city to know that the transportation industry is changing — and changing rapidly.

In the wake of transit agencies experiencing declining or stagnant ridership; utilities losing revenue to energy efficiency and local electricity generation initiatives; departments of transportation facing increasingly congested roadways; and urban residents suffering from poorer and poorer air quality, the public sector is starting to join forces with Fortune 500 companies and their start-up partners to leverage technology in re-imagining urban mobility for the future. To date, this cross-sector conversation has centered on how we can use technical advances in four streams of technologies(shared, connected, electric, and autonomous) to address four key concerns for cities (safety, air quality, congestion, and accessibility). To date, this cross-sector conversation has also been mostly that — just a conversation.

Building the urban mobility networks of tomorrow will certainly require conversation, and a lot of it. For example, electric utilities will have to learn more about how people and goods move throughout the city as a means to understand where to site electric vehicle chargers for cars and buses. Departments of transportation will have to understand profit motivations for companies looking to operate autonomous vehicles on city streets in order to design regulation that manages congestion, while providing accessibility. Companies will have to set aside traditional business models to help transit agencies augment and add ways of moving people around cities.

Moreover, building the urban mobility networks of tomorrow will require many of the actors described above to collaborate in unconventional, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar ways. Design, planning, implementation, operation, funding/financing — each of these standards steps of the city-making process will be challenged as we iterate and innovate on mobility infrastructure, software, and services.

Siemens, a global infrastructure and technology company, has already started collaborating on some of these future mobility projects. For example, in Canada, we’re collaborating with transit agencies to site eBus charging infrastructure and develop diagnostics for managing fleets of eBuses. In Tampa, FL, we’re helping the regional transportation authority to use connected vehicle technology to assist with transit signal priority and alert drivers of pedestrains in their blind spots, among other use cases.

From these these projects and others, it is clear that successful public-private collaboration requires:

· Secure data sharing, which should take place between the public and private sectors, across companies within the private sector, across city and county/regional agencies within the public sector, and across agencies and companies between the public and private sectors

· Use cases, identified by the public sector and the public, with solutions — including technologies, design, and policies — implemented by the public and private sectors together

· Flexibility in funding, financing, and procurement, with projects jointly funded or financed by public-private partnerships and procured directly by the government or indirectly by special purpose vehicles

· A plan for scaling — moving beyond doing short-term, smaller impact pilots to wholesale changes in established systems (e.g., moving from one eBus to an entire eBus fleet)

· Alignment between a single project and the ecosystem of projects occurring within a city (e.g., how does an individual project on electric vehicle charging infrastructure fit into the city’s larger, long-term plan to accommodate shared, electric, autonomous vehicles on its streets?)

Re-making cities’ transportation networks to fit 21st century needs using 21st century technologies will undoubtedly be a difficult endeavor, but it is necessary. City CIOs/CTOs/CDOs can play essential roles in enabling public-private collaboration. By managing city IT systems, running pilot projects, and developing Smart City plans, they are uniquely positioned to shape the development of the urban mobility networks of tomorrow.