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Leon Kaye headshot

Technology and Transport Companies Join Forces to Make Cities More Livable

By Leon Kaye

Corporate responsibility usually conjures up visions of volunteering, clean energy investments and supply chain transparency – among other worthy programs that companies feel are important to show they are good corporate citizens and are striving to make local communities stronger.

But companies can also harness their core strengths and competencies in a push to improve people’s lives, as well as the communities they call home.

To that end, 15 technology and transportation companies announced this week that they have banded together to develop strategies allowing cities worldwide to still be livable long into this century.

The Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities is a 10-point plan that at a higher level, promises to prioritize people over vehicles. The group includes rideshare competitors such as Uber and Lyft; bicycle sharing companies including Mobike & LimeBike; and technology developers Citymapper and Via.

The World Resources Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Rocky Mountain Institute are among the NGOs that participated in drafting the coalition’s principles. Long-term goals include a transition to an emissions-free future; fair and affordable fees for access to transit networks; and the most efficient use possible of vehicles, roads and land.

The world’s major automakers, however, are not part of this group, or at least not yet. That is a curious omission, as most of these manufacturers, including Ford, are looking to a future where the fundamental principle of transportation is not based on individual ownership, but as a shared service. These companies’ cooperation, in addition to their expertise, are also going to be needed if the world’s urban areas will continue to be viable places in which to live.

Smart transport systems will desperately be needed as the world becomes increasingly urbanized in the coming years. Currently over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas; the United Nations has estimated that by 2050, two-thirds of all citizens worldwide will live in cities. That means another 2.5 billion people will flock to cities, most of which are already struggling with congestion and creaky infrastructure. India alone will account for an additional 404 million urban dwellers by mid-century.

While “smart cities” has been the mantra for advocates who see technology as the key to improve how urban areas can move people and deliver services, in practice putting these ideals into practice has been a challenge. Transit systems in North America, from BART in Northern California’s Bay Area to Atlanta’s MARTA network have experienced their share of troubles. Meanwhile, the popularity of ridesharing worldwide has often made traffic worse in many cities– as anyone hailing a $4 Lyft or Uber ride in San Francisco will readily admit. And generally, these companies, including Didi in China, still are have not generated profits for their investors.

The challenge across the globe, quite simply, is that many cities are still saddled with 19th-century infrastructure as their citizens demand services in a 21st-century economy. Ensuring that bicycles, rail, autonomous cars, ridesharing apps, and yes, even sidewalks can all mesh together requires cooperation between city governments, the private sector and NGOs in order for the megacities of the future to still be vibrant places in which to live, work and play.

This coalition believes they can make such integration a reality. For example, the co-founder of Zipcar, Robin Chase, was instrumental in drafting this agenda. The 18-year-old car-sharing service was the first company to force a rethink about automobile ownership. Even though the company has had its share of struggles in recent years due to the popularity of ridesharing services, Zipcar is bullish about its future prospects if cities can truly become places designed for citizens instead of automobiles.

"As a category-defining leader in shared mobility, supporting the principles is a natural fit for Zipcar," said Justin Holmes, Zipcar’s director of corporate communications and public policy, in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. "We believe that by joining together with this coalition, we can better realize our common goal of shared, autonomous, sustainable and equitable mobility for all."

Image credit: World Bank/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye