Navigating the shifting tectonic plates of transportation

Navigating the shifting tectonic plates of transportation

The continental divide between Europe and North America.

This article is drawn from the Transport Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running Tuesdays.

The tectonic plates (or is that tech-tonic?) of transportation are shifting, and we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent what's happening in cities, observed Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar and Veniam, on stage last week at our VERGE 18 conference.

While it's a little abstract, I really liked that thought.

It summed up what many at the event, I think, were trying to say about new transportation infrastructure — whether that's building out charging networks for electric vehicles, designing slower-speed mobility lanes in cities or creating software that opens up access to transportation data. The idea is that we need to get this new transportation infrastructure right today — keeping in mind sustainability, equity and access — in order to build the transportation networks of the future that we really need. 

For Chase, sharing and micro-mobility are the key factors. As she put it: As the tectonic plates cool, they must cool on the side of ensuring that "shared, active" transportation is easy and cheap in cities. That's basically emphasizing mobility modes such as shared e-scooters and bikes (check out her Shared Mobility Principles, if you haven't already).

Not surprisingly, we talked a lot about the e-scooter phenomenon during VERGE 18. Not that it's that big yet, but the mobility trend represents several interesting and impactful shifts: micro-mobility; electrification; venture capital and startup activity (and Uber and Lyft attention); and navigating city relationships. It's partly what cities really want and need, but it's also bumping up against slower moving municipal transportation departments and an influx of startup players.

Gabe Klein, former transportation commissioner for Chicago and Washington, D.C., said shared e-scooter services are demonstrating a level of experimentation right now that "is awesome," even though it can be "uncomfortable and painful" for both the cities and for the companies. Klein is a big believer in public and private partnerships, having worked in both the public sector and as an adviser for companies and cities as a co-founder of CityFi. 

Oakland and San Francisco are taking very different approaches to regulate e-scooters, and everyone's watching how it will work out in these two environments. At VERGE, we chatted with both OaklandDOT and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency about how they plan to proceed. At the end of the day, it's complicated. That will be an important lesson for cities across the United States.

And then there's the emergence of entirely new, and significant, transportation infrastructure that is so totally different from what cities are used to that it requires completely new ideas and plans.

The CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, Rob Lloyd, and the CEO of engineering firm Black & Veatch unveiled a study at VERGE 18 that looked at the feasibility of building the hyperloop in Missouri on a route extending from Kansas City to St. Louis.

According to them: serving this corridor with a high-speed, tube-based transit system is possible. Among the potential impacts? The travel between the two cities could shrink to 28 minutes, compared with the 3.5-hour drive along the I-70 highway today.

"A feasibility study of this depth represents the first phase of actualization of a full-scale commercial hyperloop system, both for passengers and for cargo in the United States," said Lloyd in a statement. "We are especially proud that Missouri, with its iconic status in the history of U.S. transportation as the birthplace of the highway system, could be the keystone of a nation-wide network. The resulting socio-economic benefits will have enormous regional and national impact."