Smart cities need smart partners
Originally published on Parking Today
Our industry is more complex and chaotic than ever before. There have been more innovations in the past year than in the past decade, creating challenges for cities who are simultaneously trying to manage their current operations while also thinking strategically about the future.
While no one can predict exactly what the future holds, we can start preparing for tomorrow by building the right foundational infrastructure. To create a smart city, there needs to be an underlying digital layer that connects all facets of the transportation system that are converging on the curb. By partnering with private technology companies, city leaders can more easily adopt innovative solutions, streamline their operations, and ultimately, generate more positive outcomes for their citizens.
Partners, not products
Many of today’s transportation leaders are looking for solutions to solve immediate and short term goals, focused on one, five or 10 year plans. But a true smart city leader needs to be thinking about a 50 year plan: what will the city of the future look like and what steps can we take now to get there?
The answer isn’t a product set, it’s a partner.
With the rate of change and innovation in technology, even the most cutting-edge hardware or software is going to be outdated in a few years, likely before the time your contract ends. What cities actually need are strong partners –– people who share the same goals and are developing a suite of solutions. Ideally, private companies have the resources to think about and prepare long-term solutions. They can provide a service today to meet your needs and you can feel confident that they are also looking 10+ years into the future and creating a product roadmap to solve future problems.
Traditional procurement processes are a thing of the past; “smart city” procurements need to be more flexible and open-ended. Instead of asking for a specific product, try starting with the problem you want to solve or the outcome you want to achieve and allow companies to provide a variety of solutions. With this method, you may find a partner whose approach you never considered, but that allows you to reach your desired outcomes, with a lower cost, more efficiency and better connectivity and scalability.
By choosing the right partner and regularly sharing challenges, goals and opportunities, cities can communicate their unique needs and make sure that their voices are a part of the company’s future solution set. Working hand-in-hand, cities and their partners can shape the future together.
Taking control of the curb
One key step on the road to becoming a smart city is the need to code and digitize the curbside. Historically, cities have been focused on how single occupancy vehicles can park and pay for parking at the curb, but now there are many vehicles competing for space: scooters, delivery vehicles, ride-hailing services, bikes, public transit buses and more.
Cities need to choose a partner that can help them enforce who is allowed to access the curb, when they can use it and how much they have to pay for that time. Gone are the days of hand-written parking tickets, lockbox payments and physical chalking; those outdated methods are inefficient and can’t be applied equally across modalities.
With technology available today, cities can enforce curb access digitally, leveraging license plate recognition (LPR) software to monitor parking compliance, connected handheld devices to write and print tickets and a web-based platform to collect ticket payments. As mobility becomes increasingly complex, more and more vehicles will want curbside access. With an effective partner, cities can work with technology companies to develop systems that will enforce more than just parked cars.
City transportation departments are often small with a few dedicated individuals tasked with managing a complicated mobility ecosystem; they certainly don’t have full-blown product, engineering and marketing teams. To thrive in this ever-changing world, cities need to collaborate with private companies in order to bring innovative and new mobility onto their streets. Previously, public transit was a public sector responsibility, but now citizens have more options available with shared mobility services that are managed by private companies.
The introduction of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft was bumpy, as the mobility companies seemed at odds with city leadership. However, the industry seems to be learning from its mistakes and wants to introduce new transportation options in a way that is beneficial for the city, the mobility companies and citizens.
One example of cities collaborating with the private sector is the micro-mobility pilot program with the cities of Charlotte, Detroit and Omaha. These three cities came together, in partnership with Passport and scooter company Lime, to form a new regulatory framework for micro-mobility management. While some cities are imposing arbitrary fees or outright banning scooters, effectively shutting down innovation, these cities recognized that partnership was going to lead to a better outcome.
Cities need to think smart about how to allocate their time and resources and often, turning to established technology and the private sector is better than trying to develop a solution all alone. Technology companies are building scalable products, based on information gathered from hundreds of clients, so they can share a solution that is tested and reliable.
To have the best shot at building a digital, connected, smart city, leaders should find partners they can trust to support their operations today and their ideas for tomorrow.