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Driving Change

Shocker! Cities are learning to evolve their transportation plans

In the face of changing technology and markets, urban transportation departments are adapting.

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

Last year, Seattle relaunched its bike sharing program using dockless systems from a variety of providers (Lime, Spin and Ofo). Its former docked bike share system, which used one nonprofit organization, failed and was shut down in early 2017.

So far, it seems to be a pretty successful reboot. One interesting lesson learned from the relaunch was the way the city was able to work with a neutral third party to collect ridership data, said Stephen Smyth, CEO of Coord, a startup that was spun out of Sidewalk Labs and is part of the Alphabet family (you know, Google).

Seattle worked with the University of Washington around collecting ridership data, and stipulated that the city could access data in a private and anonymized way. Meanwhile, the companies providing the ridership data could rest assured that their competitive information was kept out of the hands of competitors. "We think this is an interesting approach and one that will be adopted more broadly," Smyth told me.

Coord is looking to build a developer platform for mobility services and wants to be seen as a neutral third party. Being separate from Google is important for its neutral brand building.

It's clear that as cities face some of these struggles with mobility and transportation — as Seattle did with its failed bike share program — they're starting to learn better ways, and the management of data will be a big part of that. London has reached an agreement to allow Uber to start operating in the English city again, but with greater government oversight, partly using data

As Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher Mims put it in a column last week, regulators have seen the disruption movie and "want a different script." Companies at the same time are rediscovering "why shaping regulations to fit a business model has long been a favored tactic of more established industries."

There will still be struggles over data and mobility providers. Lyft and Uber historically have held a lot of their data close to the vest, although that's starting to change. (We're hosting a session at VERGE 18 focused just on data sharing and cities.)

It's hard to believe that Uber had its debut in San Francisco just eight years ago this month. Remember, it used to be called UberCab and only employed black car services at the start. But it's been enough time that regulators and cities are starting to be prepared for the disruption and some hurdles. 

So yes, cities and regulators are actually learning and starting to get savvier about how to deal with the Ubers and now Limes of the world. Surprised?

And here's to getting smarter with this week's 10 reads:

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