5 Reasons Austin, Texas, Should Win the Smart Cities Grant (According to Texas)

If Austin is selected, various private companies have pledged to provide at least $50 million in services toward the project.

by Elizabeth Findell, Austin American-Statesman / June 10, 2016

(TNS) -- Austin Mayor Steve Adler was in Washington, D.C., June 9 where he went up against the mayors of Denver, Columbus, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco for a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation “Smart City” grant.

Each mayor made a 10-minute pitch about why his city deserves the money for “21st century transportation solutions.” The pitch is the final step in a process that whittled 78 applicant cities to seven semifinalists. Each of the seven received $100,000 to develop its proposal.

Before the presentation, Austin Transportation Director Rob Spillar will give USDOT a more technical breakdown of the city’s proposal. If Austin is selected, various private companies have pledged to provide at least $50 million in services toward the project, the city said in a news release.

See below for highlights of the city’s proposal:

1. To be an “open market” for transportation networks companies

Austin’s presentation spins the recent departure of Uber and Lyft in the city’s technological favor, saying “Uniquely so among major cities in the world, Austin now offers an open market for (TNC) solutions — the only such city meaningfully and competitively available for innovation and evolution.”

It vows to be a “test ground” for new transportation companies and points to GetMe, Fasten, zTrip, Hailacab, Wingz and RideAustin as evidence this is already happening.

2. Pilot program for self-driving cars

Austin would use the airport as a test-ground for automated vehicles before deploying them for people needing transportation for job interviews, medical appointments, airport transport or connections to and from public transportation stations, the city says in its presentation.

“Our citizens will embrace the opportunity to ride in self-driving vehicles from the airport,” it says. “Austin envisions a future in which automated vehicles also reach into underserved neighborhoods to bring citizens to Smart Stations and connect them with the services and opportunities they desperately need.”

3. Lowering I-35

Interstate 35 is a “physical, racial and economic dividing line,” the presentation says, which divides western Austin from eastern Austin, “where past segregation efforts placed people of color.”

The city hopes Smart City funding would help with a massive re-do of I-35 that would add lanes to speed traffic and lower the interstate through the city so surface streets could pass over it.

4. An electric fleet

A $10 million grant from Vulcan Inc., which is up for grabs as part of the Smart City challenge, would support deploying electric cars and trucks, especially of taxis and city fleets, the city says.

The proposal says that would go hand-in-hand with making sure additional electricity needed is powered by renewable sources. It estimates the city could electrify up to 5 percent of its total vehicle miles traveled within the three-year grant timeframe.

5. Connectivity

Austin would partially use the grant to integrate data and transportation management between the city, the Texas Department of Transportation, Capital Metro and the Central Texas Regional Mobility authority, the proposal says.

Roadside sensors and upgraded traffic signals would speed traffic.

The city would pilot an app to help residents see all transportation options and pay for them in a single system. Multimodal transportation centers would give central points for residents to get taxis, carpools, automated-car pickup and bicycles, the presentation says.

©2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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