Boston Is Emerging as a Center for Mobility Innovation
It goes without saying that mobility – the movement of people and goods – is an incredibly hot space. Start-ups are cropping up across the entire value chain as significant capital is deployed by incumbent strategic investors, mobility-specific funds like Fontinalis and BMW iVentures, as well as general tech funds looking to get in on the action. While headlines debate whether the nucleus of mobility innovation is Silicon Valley or Detroit, Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has not only churned out an impressive array of start-ups but has also attracted established businesses seeking innovation and research talent. The included graphic primarily highlights the mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) players, representing a snapshot of the businesses that are solidifying Boston as a driving force in the mobility space generally.
The region’s strengths as a mobility player are arguably under the radar. Recently, Héctor Naves Sordo visited Boston to investigate the local scene on behalf of Swiss Re, a large re-insurance company that set up a local presence in 2016. Héctor shared his astonishment at the depth and breadth of the ecosystem, “I came to Boston to explore the AVs and IoT technology landscape and was blown away. We hear so much about Silicon Valley as a hub of innovation. It was energizing to discover an East Coast counterpart that is exploring the future of mobility, connected cars and AVs, topics that Swiss Re is monitoring closely as they will impact motor insurance and society in general.” Boston’s own insurance behemoth, Liberty Mutual, also has a group dedicated to future mobility and recently released an open API portal that combines public transportation data with proprietary insurance knowledge to power new products.
Local investors are engaging as well – some have been doing so for several years. Chris Cheever, who leads the Boston office of Fontinalis Partners, a mobility-focused venture capital firm says, “The talent pool here – both academic and entrepreneurial – provides fertile ground for the kind of innovation that is going to take mobility into the next generation and beyond. We recognized this early on, which is why we established our firm with both Boston and Detroit offices in 2009. We’re seeing more investors scouring Boston for mobility opportunities. Of our current portfolio of companies, approximately 25% are headquartered or originated in the Boston area, and as much as 50% have significant operational presence here. It really is a tremendous environment for mobility startups.”
The Boston Mobility Roundtable, an informal coalition of regional private sector companies, came together in late 2016 to support regional visibility and growth opportunities with respect to mobility. Recently, public sector officials from the MBTA, City of Boston, MassDOT and MassPort joined the Mobility Roundtable for an open discussion on the best ways to connect and collaborate. Kris Carter, Co-Chair of the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics said, “We are fortunate to have such a thriving innovation ecosystem in Boston, and we see our role as a champion for the sector and key collaborator in helping unlock new opportunities for the people of Boston. Whether that is providing consultation, test beds, or pilot program opportunities, it’s critical to work cooperatively in providing new mobility choices in an equitable way across the city.”
While transportation programs, infrastructure and norms are largely regional, transportation challenges are universal. Localizing innovative new mobility thinking or concepts for a city’s particular needs can create a ripple effect that expands our collective thinking. Already, mobility enthusiasts from Austin, Washington, DC, Silicon Valley and Detroit have been hand raisers to collaborate with Boston area efforts. Sharing solutions and learnings from programs conducted here (or carried out by Boston-based companies elsewhere) is just one way that Boston can continue to solidify its reputation as a center for mobility innovation.
On June 20, 2017, one hundred and twenty mobility leaders will convene in Cambridge, Massachusetts to discuss the future of mobility in the Boston region at the Boston Mobility Summit. This summit aims to harness the ingenuity and innovation already underway in the Commonwealth as well as the expertise of invited global thought leaders with best practices directly applicable to Boston’s challenges.
This day-long leadership summit will bring together C-suite executives from the private sector and public sector, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs and academics to share local and global best practices applicable to the Boston region. The focus will be on transformative new technologies, policies, financing mechanisms, design and collaboration models with a particular focus on low-carbon and equitable solutions.
If you are interested in attending this invite-only summit, please fill out this application: http://cityminded.org/boston-application.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
In New Zealand, persistent, concentrated advocacy and legal cases advanced by Māori people are inspiring biocentric policies; that is, those which recognize that people and nature, including living and non-living elements, are part of an interconnected whole. Along the way, tribal leaders and advocates are successfully making the case that nature; whole systems of rivers, lakes, forests, mountains, and more, deserves legal standing to ensure its protection. An early legislative “win” granted personhood status to the Te Urewera forest in 2014, which codified into law these moving lines:
“Te Urewera is ancient and enduring, a fortress of nature, alive with history; its scenery is abundant with mystery, adventure, and remote beauty … Te Urewera has an identity in and of itself, inspiring people to commit to its care.”
The Te Urewera Act of 2014 did more than redefine how a forest would be managed, it pushed forward the practical expression of a new policy paradigm.
Can U.S. cities transform to overcome extreme car dependency?
In summer 2019, two values driven agencies came together to see if they could incentivize change in five cities with the Made to Move Grant program. This innovative, unique, and inspirational partnership between Degree and Blue Zones is awarding $100,000 dollars to each city to redesign their neighborhoods and city-centers for active, healthy lives. The program aims to create model practices and projects that gain the attention of other cities and inspire evolutionary changes to once again focus on places for people, and design accordingly.
Nearly a million people in California receive low quality drinking water from underperforming water systems, which are challenged by drought, overdrafting, and emerging contaminants. Root causes of poor water quality can include inadequate treatment technology, operational issues, and insufficient personnel and financial capacity.
By focusing on small water systems that do have multiple violations, there is opportunity for significant positive impact. Nearly 700,000 Californians are served by small public water systems with one or more water quality violations in the last five years.
Improving water quality is more than choosing a technical solution. Community alignment and support, and political willingness are critical elements that need to be combined with technical solutions to allow systems to thrive.
Shared mobility services have been proposed as a solution to urban congestion. When Uber and Lyft launched a decade ago, proponents of this model of peer-to-peer “ride sharing” claimed it would revolutionize public transportation to the point of replacing it. Opponents of a 2016 ballot measure to fund transit projects in Detroit wrote, “The proposal spends billions on old transit tech like buses and rail while other cities are contracting out transit services to Uber, Lyft, Chariot and others that provide door-to-door service at substantial savings.”
In the meantime, we’ve learned that peer-to-peer ride sharing services, better called ride-hailing services since they primarily function as taxis carrying individual passengers, have made traffic 180 percent worse in some cities. They have over-supplied the market with vehicles that are empty most of the time, on average adding 2.8 miles of traffic for every mile they carry passengers.
In their efforts to protect consumers from higher capital costs, utilities have racked up more and more debt and weakened their credit. Storms, wildfires, record heat waves, and cold fronts are pushing our electricity grids to the limit. The general public is demanding a wholesale shift to zero carbon energy to stop climate change. Meanwhile, new technologies are starting to erode the utilities’ traditional monopolies.
Fortunately, there is a tool that has been able to help reduce risks while providing capital at scale: securitization. Around since the 1970’s, securitization raises capital at scale by aggregating large numbers of similar assets together and creating liquidity for potential investors.
Unlike most planning books, which set their sights for twenty, sometimes fifty, years into the future, Speck’s book is for now. Actually, it’s long overdue.
I wish I had Walkable City Rules fifteen years ago, to distribute to mayors, city administrators, DOT engineers, and developers. When I was the City Designer for the City of Davenport, Iowa, I helped prepare informational packets for the council, design review board, and planning commission. This paperwork would have gone much faster if I could have copied relevant rules from Speck’s book to include in those packets. My discussions with the state highway engineers and our own Public Works Department would have been more fruitful, and meetings more efficient, had I been able to pass out rules on why traffic lanes should be narrowed, curb-cuts eliminated, and angled parking allowed. There would have been fewer walls in City Hall I beat my head against had developers been shown Speck’s reasoning large parking lots in front of their retail centers is not a good thing (and that including housing in those retail centers is a good thing).
The country has provided hundreds of billions of dollars to recover from recent coastal storms but done little to rethink the existing policies and programs that contribute to coastal property losses, or to define new measures that account for the new realities of more damaging storms and rising sea levels.
A key first step toward smarter policies is to improve disclosure of risk associated with coastal properties. This will require better mapping of areas at risk of both storms and rising seas. National standards are needed for disclosure of coastal flood risk prior to sale. Lenders and supporting agencies need to evaluate and disclose coastal flood risk.
By incorporating multiple transport modes into a single application, users can benefit from personalised services which recognise individual mobility needs, easier transactions and payments, and dynamic journey management and planning.
A fully comprehensive MaaS offering could mean the ownership of private vehicles is no longer necessary for people. As mobility needs begin to be provided by a range of services through a single platform, usership could replace ownership.
The potential of MaaS has been recognised around the world. In the UK, the government has included MaaS within its transport strategy. An expert committee of Members of Parliament concluded that MaaS has the “potential to transform how people travel” by boosting public transport, reducing congestion, and improving air quality.
The water-energy nexus is not new. The concept that our water and energy systems are reliant on each other is sometimes paired with a third issue, like food security or public health. This can make it more relevant to our daily lives. Despite a basic understanding of resource interdependencies, city and utility leaders still allow planning and implementation processes to remain predominately separate. A common local scenario finds the water utility facing system upkeep alone, the energy utility not considering other utility issues or city goals as they operate, and city leaders generally focused on more visibly troublesome urban systems, like housing or transportation.
Waiting for car manufacturers and ride-hail operators to decide the future of urban AV deployment will not create the cities that urban planners hope for, and often work very hard to make happen. While significant penetration of AVs — private or shared — is likely a decade or two away, deferring directional, optimization, and livability strategies will rob cities of flexibility, influence, and degrees of freedom within a decade.
If you believe AVs are coming eventually, the time to start getting ready is now, even if you believe human drivers will remain dominant for many decades. The steps outlined here are important support for the alternative to SOV, of expanding mobility-as-a-service such as Uber and Lyft.
In a circular city, “reduce-reuse-recycle” will replace “take-make-dispose”. Urban mobility will be carbon-neutral, relying on low- to zero-emission vehicles within a broader energy network powered by renewables. Cities and businesses will also generate savings from using recycled building materials and turning waste into fuel to power buses.
In other words, circular cities will blend ancient approaches with modern technologies. But how will they do it, and where will the money come from?
Today, over 2 million Americans are living without access to clean, running water. The newly released ‘Close The Water Gap’ report by DigDeep and the US Water Alliance pulls back the veil on America’s hidden water crisis.
This is the first-ever comprehensive look at indoor water access across the United States, and its findings are explosive: Race is the strongest predictor of vulnerability. In six states (plus Puerto Rico), progress is actually backsliding. More than 44 million Americans are served by water systems with recent violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.