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Analysis: Investing in ‘smart’ city tech startups could lead to clearer roads, easier parking

Investing in “smart” city technology could be an effective way to decrease the parking woes that exist in crowded towns across the United States, Keri Gohman recently wrote for Crunchbase News. Gohman is apparently not alone in that sentiment—more than 900 smart city startup companies have raised a combined $5 billion in recent years.

“Politicians and city planners can do better by embracing technology to actively manage movement on streets and sidewalks,” Gohman wrote. “We cannot wait to act. If our transportation and mobility infrastructure is barely at passing grade today, what happens when autonomous vehicles and more shared e-scooters and e-bikes hit the streets?”

How COVID led to the need for smart city tech investments

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. a lot of cities’ businesses shut down, which led to new traffic patterns and less need for public transportation. Meanwhile, use of micromobility vehicles (e-bikes, e-scooters, etc.) increased. Even as the pandemic subsides, transportation activity has not returned to pre-COVID levels, giving city leaders a rare opportunity to deploy smart city tech, according to Gohman. This technology could change street usage, add pedestrian and bike infrastructure, improve parking, manage micromobility vehicles better and more. The parking improvement factor could be worth the investment on its own. A recent INRIX study revealed that drivers spend 17 hours annually looking for parking, which costs $345 per motorist in wasted time, fuel and emissions.

“With the proliferation of new tech and modes of transportation, cities will require a holistic view of utilization as transportation evolves on the street,” Gohman wrote. “Today, a city may use as many as 15 different technologies to handle various parts of its mobility infrastructure, causing a massive management challenge.

If city leaders used more unified technology platforms, they could potentially gain a more well-rounded view into relevant data and turn that information in to meaningful insights and action. A lot the data is already accessible as mobile apps generate it during payment transactions, via GPS systems, traffic data and vehicle operating systems, Gohman reports.

How a smart city tech rollout might look

Cities would first need a digital mobility and data platform that processes payments to create its technological foundation. Any city mobility service would operate on a single payment processing data platform. This would allow all rules, rates and logic servicing cars sitting at the curb to be regulated more efficiently.

Secondly, the platform has to nimble enough so new technologies are essentially “plug-and-play” as they evolve. Examples include parking enforcement solutions from Barnacle, sensors that let drivers know what parking is available (Genetec) and micromobility vehicle providers like Lime and Spin.

“While integral to a city’s mobility infrastructure, when standing alone these apps provide a limited view,” Gohman wrote. “One unified digital mobility platform into which all of these technologies are integrated could serve as the single source of truth where all data is aggregated.”

Austin, TX is a city at the forefront of this movement, Gohman reports. It’s already integrated wayfinding and in-dash apps into its payment processing app. Meanwhile, Boston is currently looking into how it can make data-driven changes to how much curb space the city dedicates to freight trucks and parking spaces. Raleigh, NC currently uses a centralized parking and mobility platform and has rolled out occupancy sensors to integrate parking data into its local policy decisions.

“As cities continue to innovate, private partnerships with companies such as Passport that have developed digital mobility platforms will be paramount to improved livability and urban prosperity,” Gohman wrote.” Other startups such as Zoba, Ride Report, VADE and StreetLight Data that provide mobility management tools and help cities build data infrastructure, will also play a role in the future of the smart-city tech stack.

“While people on the street will benefit most from smart-city solutions, they won’t get a chance to experience them unless visionary city leaders act now to deploy new technology platforms.”

Joe Dyton can be reached at joed@fifthgenmedia.com.

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