Execs at Uber and Cruise reveal what it takes to become a smart city – and how tech can solve urban mobility and inequality

Smart cities are expected to create $2.46 trillion in business opportunities across the globe by 2025. But there’s a difference between what makes a city smart and a city that’s simply evolving for the future.

“During the pandemic, we really discovered that our assets are public assets and cities have been underutilized,” Shin-pei Tsay, global head of cities and transportation policy at Uber, said at Insider’s recent virtual event, “The Future of Mobility: Data Driving Innovation,” presented by Arity on Tuesday, September 14. “You’re starting to see how technology played a role in enabling the changes in the physical space.”

This conversation, titled “Smart cities: What the future of urban mobility looks like,” featured Tsay alongside Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer, and Oliver Cameron, VP of product at Cruise, General Motors’ autonomous electric car subsidiary.

Pawl said that smart cities need to start with individual use cases rather than simply thinking in terms of efficiencies.

“Once you have the right data, you can begin to make better decisions about how you use your streets and use your buildings,” he said.

“Ultimately, that’s going to lead to more options: transportation options, movement options for both people and goods in a city,” he added.”That’s going to lead to affordability at the end of the day.”

Tsay said that the pandemic has seen the inequities that have always existed in cities become much more visible.

“Recent analysis that we did at Uber showed that during the pandemic, there was very consistent use of ride-hail from lower-income neighborhoods in comparison to higher-income neighborhoods,” she said.

Many of those trips took people to essential jobs, hospitals, distribution centers, and even to parks not served by public transport. For Uber, this told the company that technology can fill gaps left by disruption and public policy failures.

Technology is moving at a much faster speed than public sector policymakers, Pawl said. In turn, they need to begin moving faster in terms of regulations and procedures to implement the ability to be smart.

Cameron added that when it comes to climate change, urban mobility solutions and smart-city infrastructure, such as a fully electric fleet of shared vehicles, can help communities deal with changing temperatures and increasing natural disasters.

Around 88 of the top 100 US cities have less than half of the charging infrastructure necessary to handle electrification at scale today.

“If you are simply solving a problem for the city and not for its residents, then you’re not really solving a problem at all,” he said.

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