Cities Can Learn From the Lightbulb: Passport’s Approach for the Curb

A word from our CEO, Bob Youakim:

Yesterday we announced Passport’s $65M Series D fundraise led by Rho Capital Partners, HIG Growth Partners and ThornTree Capital Partners and welcome Habib Kairouz and Scott Hilleboe to Passport’s Board. I’m honored for their conviction in our team and our company vision. We’re looking forward to advancing on our commitment to innovating together with our clients and trusted partners. Congratulations to the Passport team that has come together to build an incredible business at the intersection of technology, transportation, and payments. I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to our investors, to our clients and to the crew at Passport for helping to build something special- I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve you.

But what is our company vision and why does it matter?

We believe that the freedom of movement drives human progress and we strive to build modern software that gives cities control of their transportation systems, starting with tools to manage their curb space. That’s critically important, because in the future, almost everyone in the world will live in a city, and in order to deal with this long-term macro trend, cities must have tools to ensure that their transportation systems contribute to, rather than detract from, citizens’ quality of life as cities become more densely populated.

This will require collaboration between the public and private sectors, and we’re at the beginning of an important technological shift in how these groups can work together to help cities move faster and run better in the face of new and important challenges facing urban transportation systems. We have an opportunity to move from closed, vendor-driven solutions to open ecosystems that promote competition, foster innovation, and more effectively connect city government to their citizens, companies, and communities.

When we say “open ecosystem,” we mean enabling cities to be proactive vs. reactive in granting access to services that are extended to citizens. City interactions and services typically limit citizens’ access to public services by limiting the end-user application layer to exclusive providers. Instead, citizens should be able to access city services, including on-street parking, as directly as possible through the products they already use, love, and trust — including navigation applications and in-car systems seamlessly without ever logging into or creating an account in our system.

We’re committed to providing the digital infrastructure that makes it possible for cities to responsibly integrate their public services into their communities’ trusted apps and most important services allowing seamless transactions.

That pattern — private sector innovators building upon publicly available infrastructure — has enabled some of the most important technological revolutions. Paved roads, stop signs, and parking meters provided by the public sector drove the adoption of cars and drove exponential efficiency in the movement of people and goods through cities; and public electrical infrastructure led to the development of the foundational technologies of daily life and communication, including personal computers, air conditioning, and television.

In fact, electrical infrastructure provides a case study for the importance of transitioning from a closed solution to an open ecosystem. In the first residential electrical installations in the 1880s in New York, early electrical light bulbs were installed by connecting each bulb to small, dedicated electrical generators. In other words, the infrastructure (the electrical source) only worked with one “application” (the light bulb), and as a result, the earliest residential electrical installations primarily benefited light-bulb makers. That matches closely to the dominant model in the parking industry: cities select a company to build a single application on top of proprietary payment infrastructure. Meaning, one generator per lightbulb.

The transformational potential of electricity only became clear once electricity became public infrastructure as a result of transformational public-private partnerships. Instead of single-purpose generators to power light bulbs, cities worked with electrical utilities to build the modern energy grid, bringing standardized power sources into every home that could be used to power any device. Inventors could suddenly create new devices without permission from electrical providers, which created the open innovation ecosystem that ultimately produced everything from smoke detectors that make people safer in their homes to smartphones that put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips…and yes, continued improvement in lightbulbs.

Urban transportation will make the same transition, and innovation in open public payments will start at the curb.

Due to the growth of e-commerce, the explosion of food delivery services, and the introduction of micro-mobility, cities need flexible digital infrastructure to manage access to their curb assets. Just as the electricity that originally powered lightbulbs was harnessed to power new and innovative devices, the digital infrastructure necessary to support an open parking ecosystem will be applied to manage the increasingly complex ecosystem of vehicles accessing curb space. As the largest provider of digital curb payments, we’re committed to helping cities manage these emerging uses of curb space.

Many people at Passport have made huge sacrifices in their lives in pursuit of our vision and we’re passionate about connecting city government to local citizens, communities, and businesses. We’re excited to continue our work together to build the public digital infrastructure that will empower cities to create those connections at the scale demanded by modern transportation systems.


Bob Youakim

CEO, Passport