Why partnerships and engagement are key strategies for building smart transportation networks

The Council has continuously encouraged public-private sector partnerships and collaboration on smart city projects. A Smart Cities Week panel discussion focused on how DOT Smart City Challenge award winner Columbus, Ohio offered a real-world confirmation for why partnerships and collaboration are essential for success. — Doug Peeples


The population of Columbus, Ohio is expected to double within the next 10 years. As panel moderator Scott Corwin put it, "There simply isn't enough infrastructure to accommodate all those people."

Corwin is Managing Director and Future Mobility Leader for Council Global Lead Partner Deloitte, the consulting company Columbus hired to help the city build its roadmap for a smart transportation network.

Why your city needs partners
And as co-moderator Jordan Davis, director of smart cities for the Columbus Partnership, explained, partnerships are keys to the city's success and one of many reasons the city won the DOT Smart City Challenge award and an added $10 million from Paul Allen's philanthropic organization Vulcan, Inc. The smart transportation infrastructure project is a joint effort between the city and the Columbus Partnership Davis directs.

"The past year has been about planning and coalition building. You cannot undervalue how important it is to have trust with the people you're working with," Davis said. A total of 65 city businesses realizes they have "skin in the game" and are committed to the city's plan to build a smart transportation network that will improve residents' quality of life, drive a growing economy, provide improved access to jobs and other opportunities and more, she added.

Ben Prochazka, VP of the Electrification Coalition, worked with Vulcan on its grant selection process and continues to work with the city. "Columbus jumped into the lead with its civic engagement. Those 65 local businesses took on a major role and also created an accelerator fund. Columbus is a city other cities think they can be, so Columbus offers a potential 'multiplier' factor."

Paying for it all
Dominie Garcia, Smart Cities Program Lead for global R&D organization Battelle, said the public and private sectors aren't at odds with each other. "Cities need to look at their ROI long-term and they need new models to do that. The private sector has the skills and the money to get the technology up faster." Columbus matched its DOT grant with $90 million, $12 million in cash and the rest from in-kind contributions from Battelle and others, Davis said.

While the city started with 15 projects it is now focusing on nine, including a modernized electric grid, renewable energy, connected autonomous vehicles/EVs and integrated exchange — which are now underway. The transportation roadmap also includes a common fare payment system, multi-modal transit and a cultural component to aggressively encourage EV adoption.

Lessons learned
For Davis, the past year has been a learning experience. And she shared what she learned for the benefit of other cities:

  • Enlist the private sector to keep pace with changes and take advantage of their experience in areas such as procurement.
  • Understand the challenges and build a coalition, but also have a champion.
  • Have the right personnel on board capable of managing large, multi-faceted projects.
  • Ensure that processes (such as budgeting) are up to the job they're required to support.
  • Work with other cities.
  • Be transparent and honest with citizens from the very beginning.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.