Christopher Carey caught up with Jordan Davis, Director, Smart Columbus, to discuss how the city has evolved its mobility strategy since winning the US government’s smart city challenge in 2016.
What are the main issues facing mobility in Columbus?
We are growing faster as a city than the national average, so providing transportation that meets the growing needs of our communities is challenging. We need to provide access to residents that need it the most. As a sprawling city we have big choices to make about our future: to build for density rather than sprawl, to invest in high capacity transit, but also provide on-demand services—an expectation that exists in today’s market. Establishing how we bring all this together for a different type of transport ecosystem in the future is a huge challenge.
How has winning the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge changed your city?
It has been absolutely transformational for us—in more ways than one. Firstly, it has really infused a different conversation into our community about the future of mobility and what we can do to lead that change, both from an industry and public sector perspective. I’d also say it’s been a catalyst for action. The grant [$40 million] has spurred a variety of pilot projects that have put us in a much smarter position than we were before. It gave us the urgency to act which you can’t undervalue in a community setting. Those timelines and deadlines helped us facilitate and bring together a lot of different stakeholders across all sectors towards a common mission and vision, which has been really exciting.
Which project do you personally find to be the most exciting?
The work we’re doing around data is very compelling. We’ve built a data management platform that brings together information from different sectors in real-time. The use cases that this platform is built on are very current and cutting-edge for cities. I think from an industry perspective it might be the greatest legacy from the programme.
Another thing I get really excited about is the mobility ecosystem; asking how you, as a user, navigate all the options that mobility offers in the community–from scooters to public transit, TNCs to fixed route shuttles–and how these are brought to you in a way that makes it more seamless, connected, convenient and accessible. We’ve introduced a few different ways to get at that, like investing in smart mobility hubs around a core corridor that will have all the options concentrated at bus stops along the main arterial roads.
And then there’s our multimodal trip planning and payment system app, Pivot, which we’ve already introduced in beta form, but which will have a full launch early this year. We’re also building a really robust electric vehicle (EV) market which started from nothing to really something in the space of just three years.
What is the biggest barrier in getting Columbus’ residents to make the switch to electric vehicles?
I think there’s generally a perception issue. Charging, of course, is a perceived barrier, but we have really closed the gap on that in Columbus by providing more options for drivers. Affordability is also a big misnomer—in a survey we carried out on EV uptake, we found that most people associate EVs with Tesla, and they don’t realise there are more affordable options out there. So a lot of education has to go into getting people to appreciate the diversity of choice that they have in the market.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I get to spend a lot of time strategically thinking about the future of our city. This is my hometown, and I’ve watched this community grow so I love nothing more than seeing the city solve its own problems and make the systems and community work better for the people who live here. Being able to be a part of something that’s writing a new chapter for how cities work and how we live our lives is really a personal passion of mine.