[Forbes] Are Curbs The Next Frontier In Urban Mobility?

Originally published by Forbes on April 29, 2019
by Jennifer Kite-Powell

With urban areas focusing on smart mobility and as micro-mobility companies, like e-scooters and e-bikes enter new markets, cities are looking for ways to manage all these new mobility options. In a rush to handle the latest technology on the streets, one aspect of the new urban mobility market has been overlooked.


New mobility technology such as autonomous cars can’t read parking signs to know when and where they need to go or when their time is up. And, on top of this e-scooters, e-bikes and cars have made sidewalks and roadways more crowded, and cities haven’t updated their curbside regulations to accommodate the shift in city streets. All of these changes to urban streets doesn’t fit into a city’s legacy infrastructure.

Many urban cities are re-visiting how and when a curb is used and quantify their value for better management of city congestion.

Passport is an urban mobility company that says the solution to helping cities catch up with mobility tech and better manage their streets comes down to ‘coding the curb’. The company has $58.5 million in funding from five investors including Bain Capital, MK Capital, Grotech Ventures, NEST-TN and Relevance Capital.

Bob Youakim, CEO and founder of Passport, cities need to manage the rules, rates, and regulations of the curb.

“Traditionally, cities use legacy and untracked signage, which can become outdated and lead to confusion for drivers and enforcement officers,” said Youakim. “While municipalities strive to keep up with the pace of new mobility technology, the private sector is innovating at an unprecedented speed and cities are responsible for providing equitable access to transportation for all citizens.”

“Often without warning, scooters and dockless bikes have been dropped into the city after city, while just a few years ago, ride-hailing services were introduced and shook up city transportation,” said Youakim. “Passport provides the opportunity for cities to keep pace with innovation – working alongside the private sector to offer [..] equitable transportation solutions to citizens today and prepare for new future offerings.”

“It’s incredibly important to recognize that the market can under-serve communities removed from easy access. People need to come first—they’re the reason transportation services exist, both public and private,” said Youakim.

A smarter curb

The Passport mobility platform enables a machine-readable representation of the physical curb which can be configured to meet the goals of the city, whether the goals are equality, access, revenue, or other specifications for the area. By ‘coding the curb’. Passport’s architecture allows cities to connect data flows from multiple transportation applications and services, including insight from ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft or scooter providers Bird and Lime.

“The centralized platform creates the ability to visualize and analyze trends, view data in one location, house all rates and regulations, and manage all mobility modes under a single system and this allows cities to do everything from changing rates or enabling new modes of transportation, to offering first and last mile solutions,” added Youakim.

Youakim says that curb management can create access to previously untapped opportunities through both direct revenue growth, from items such as parking fees, and indirect opportunities to improve access on urban roadways. But that most of this comes down to understanding the qualitative value of space on the curb – for a car, bus, scooter or delivery vehicle.

“By carefully managing parking demands in the city in conjunction with the current uses of existing spaces, cities can gain a better understanding of how to meet parking needs, while reducing congestion,” said Youakim. “With this flexible approach to managing curb space, depending on the most valuable use of space at a particular time, cities can optimize the flow of traffic.”

For example, Youakim says that the same curb space might be best used as a parking space during the day, but in an area with an active nightlife, could be used as a ride-hail pickup zone. Another example are loading zones.

“While trucks may only be in a loading zone for a few hours per day, those spaces are commonly reserved 24 hours a day. This means that every hour that space sits empty, there is a lost opportunity to put a car in that space that may be circling the block looking for parking, consequently causing congestion,” said Youakim. “If you think about the number of loading zones commonly in a downtown area, that’s a lost opportunity to put a car in a spot can become a huge tax on traffic congestion, impacting just how livable the area is.”

Passport applied this loading zone strategy to the city of Chicago, helping them manage their commercial loading zones via the ParkChicago app. In New Haven, CT, they helped the city to digitize all aspects of parking operations. Through data provided to New Haven, the city had insight into trends in parking such as more extended stays in the city for customers using mobile-pay parking compared to those paying without the app. New Haven also had a lower incidence of parking tickets while parking revenue for the city increased by 10%, which the city attributes to ease of payment.

Better curb management

With the introduction of new forms of mobility, such as dockless bikes, cities have an opportunity to increase the use of public transit. One of the most significant barriers to public transit use is the distance citizens have to travel to or from a fixed transit stop.

According to Youakim, through better curb management of micro-mobility and making vehicles readily available for users, cities can leverage new mobility services to create first/last-mile solutions that contribute to higher public transit use, and ultimately reduce congestion on city streets.

” True management of the curb is about improving the experience for citizens throughout their journey . This can take many forms such an integrating with mapping technologies so users can map, plan and pay for their journey in a single hub or providing insight into predictive parking availability so drivers can easily find parking when they need it,” added Youakim.

Youakim adds that the urban silos that exist today – bus, train, and other services all being run by different departments – often leave cities unable to optimize across different modes of transportation and offer a more cohesive transit experience for travelers.

“This is in sharp contrast to what riders are used to in the rest of their day-to-day experiences. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies incorporated into daily activities, there are few everyday tasks, purchases, or services that haven’t been digitalized and streamlined,” said Youakim. “Meanwhile, transportation has made considerable strides from ride-hailing to mobile ticketing and mobile passes, yet all of our travel modes still function (and frequently, are managed) separately.”

Youakim believes that public transportation agencies can be true mobility facilitators by acknowledging that more players in the game have the potential to be enablers and integrators, rather than competitors.

“By making a single technology platform available to private mobility solution providers, municipalities can enable them to ‘plug and play’ with new innovative solutions, while still adhering to their city rules and regulations,” said Youakim. “This could mean that riders can soon sync a Lyft ride with the arrival of their commuter train, or purchase a transit ticket through a ride-hailing app, but it also ushers in simpler changes that can make a big difference.”

In 2016, the Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works called for a public transit approach designed to connect people to opportunities through multiple transportation options and then Mayor, Carlos A. Giménez combined the traffic and transit departments to reevaluate mobility as a whole and improve the transportation experience for citizens. Youakim said that with the new department, the city could begin to look at mobility from a customer journey perspective rather than a mode-specific view.

Coding the curb for autonomous vehicles

In Youakim’s view, as more digitally-reliant technologies are introduced, cities will need to integrate behavioral economics, real-time data and pricing to naturally manage supply and demand for mobility services.

“Current use of legacy and untracked signage for parking doesn’t reflect the changes autonomous vehicles will bring to roadways. More importantly, current signage will likely be impossible for autonomous cars to register in real-time,” added Youakim. “Parking rules and regulations need to not only be visible, but digital.”

“Effectively managing parking data within one platform, cities can work with traffic applications such as Waze or auto manufacturers to make it easier to access details on city parking. This will help autonomous or connected vehicles not only read parking signs but also be able to find a parking space more efficiently. Digitizing the process can remove the common practice of “circling for parking,” by identifying areas with more availability or lower costs,” said Youakim.

Youakim says that the company’s ultimate goal is to help cities create a smart urban mobility ecosystem that is customized to meet their citizens’ unique goals and challenges.

“We want to empower cities to move faster and run better, adapting to rapid changes in mobility and creating a strategy for smart urban mobility that ensures urban areas are equitable and livable,” added Youakim.