Mobility made it to prime time at CES 2020, sharing the stage with artificial intelligence and curved glass for bendable cellphones. Seven sessions were live streamed and speakers covered charging stations, aging infrastructure, trust in autonomous vehicles, and urban air mobility.

At the Smart Cities of the Future: Mobility Innovation session, Clara Fain, CFO of Via, said that cities have to build the right digital and physical infrastructure now to shape the development of autonomous vehicles.

Given that only 2% of city budgets are spent on tech and IT, Fain recommended that cities look for new sources of funding to do this work.

“Cities should be utilizing their biggest asset, which is the road, to generate new funding,” she said.

Laura Schewel, founder and CEO of Streetlight Data, said at a CES session about the future of mobility that her company has to sell two solutions simultaneously when working city departments and tight budgets.

She said the key to success is to solve an existing problem in a way that provides additional data that can inform innovative work as well. Schewel used the example of the daily traffic counts that cities have to report to the federal government. Schewel described this task as not very exciting but quite expensive.

“If we can sell into that budget, we can simply displace something plain old that happens every day, and by using that budget, the cities not only get traffic counts, they get data that can help them plan for autonomous vehicles and do data-driven, equity-driven transit planning,” she said.

SEE: Smart cities: A business leader’s guide (free PDF)

Autonomous cars are still “just around the corner” but there are plenty of other new ways to get around that city residents can use right now.

Via, Siemens Mobility, and StreetLight Data–three companies in Las Vegas at CES 2020 to talk mobility–all had more news this week about transportation innovations that are hitting the streets today.

Siemens Mobility connects cars and infrastructure

Siemens was at CES for the first time this year with its Mobility Division. Marc Buncher, the CEO of Siemens Mobility, said 40 of the top 100 cities in the US don’t have rail transportation, which means America is a developing country for that mode of transportation.

“We’re both road and rail and we can do everything that connects people to home and work,” he said in a video interview.

Siemens is running a connected vehicle pilot with Tampa that uses roadside units to connect cars and infrastructure.

Roadside units (RSUs) communicate with connected cars to send information from traffic signals, crosswalks, or highways to oncoming vehicles equipped with onboard units.

The RSUs can also process the location of vehicles and send this information via the RSU to a central management system to coordinate the traffic in the intersection and the broader local area.

Marcus Welz, president, intelligent traffic systems, Siemens Mobility, said connected vehicle pilots in New York and Tampa, one of the main use cases is using connected infrastructure to improve safety.

“By constantly comparing the movement of pedestrians with the position, direction, and speed of the vehicle, you can plot potential crash areas and warn the driver or robot of an impending collision,” he said in a video interview.

He added that the best use of autonomous vehicles is to use them as feeder buses to make it easier for more people to use existing public transit systems.

“Frankly, thousands of self-driving vehicles are still thousands of vehicles in a traffic jam whether there’s a human driver or not,” he said.

Blumberg Capital founder and managing partner David Blumberg said cities are improving mobility by building a “collaborative operating grid” that includes hardware, software, and all modes of transportation.

“Different modes of transportation will need to connect, intersect and interact so that commuters can move seamlessly from point A to point B,” Blumberg said. “More importantly, these data intensive systems need to be managed by transportation operators, agencies, regulators and others to match vehicles to riders, maximize safety and convenience while minimizing commute time, cost and pollution.”

Sacramento and Via announce on-demand van rides

Via just announced a new on-demand microtransit service in partnership with the Sacramento Regional Transit District with 42 vehicles. Microtransit services are a cross between bus service and ride-hailing services with on-demand public transit services with fixed routes and schedules, as well as flexible routes and on-demand scheduling.

Riders can hail a vehicle with an app or by making a call. The app directs passengers to a nearby virtual bus stop within a short walking distance for pick up and drop off. This allows for multiple people to share one ride on-demand.

The cost is $2.50 per trip. Sacramento started the service in 2018 and recently expanded it to cover more neighborhoods with small shuttle buses equipped to accommodate people with disabilities.

Using data to understand overall mobility

StreetLight Data just released its first US Transportation Climate Impact Index, a ranking of the nation’s 100 most populous metro areas. Every city has a score in each five categories:

The ranking takes all of these factors into account and cites at the top of the list have the lowest impact on climate change.

Transportation generates more greenhouse gases than any other sector of the economy, so the cities at the top of the Impact Index have the lowest impact. The top five regions are:

  1. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

  2. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
  3. Madison, WI
  4. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
  5. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH

The five regions at the bottom of the list are:

  1. Kansas City, MO-KS
  2. St. Louis, MO-IL
  3. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
  4. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
  5. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

StreetLight Data collects and indexes more than 100 billion anonymized location records from
smartphones and navigation devices in connected cars and trucks. The company adds mobility data from other sources to understand activity on roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks.

During the Smart Cities of the Future: Mobility Innovation session at CES 2020, panelists discussed the wide range of projects cities and companies are testing.
Image: CES