Description: Many millennials already resist owning cars. Ubering everywhere has already reinvigorated the entertainment and cultural landscape in places like LA. Smart data and efficiently deploying vehicles and public infrastructure is central to building a fair society.
The following transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for ease of reading.
Speakers: Nir Erez, Moovit | Sean Co, Strava | Ken Washington, Ford Motor Company
Moderator: Dan Costa, PCMag
(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)
Costa: We’ve got a great conversation for you today about the future of mobility and we’ve got three very different, very fascinating companies. I want to start by letting each of them introduce themselves to you, explain a little bit about their company. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them. You may not be as familiar with others. And then we’ll kick up the conversation and I will try and leave some time on the clock for questions at the end of the conversation so we can get some of your feedback in there to. Ken, why don’t you start us off?
Washington: Okay, great. Well, thanks for the having me here. Ken Washington, I’m the CTO at Ford Motor Company. All of you all know Ford is an automobile company but also a mobility company. But what I want to talk to you about is the fact that I love the topic of the theme of this event because mobility and transportation has for a long a time been sort of the great democratizer of society. It allows people to move and get to places, get to work, receive medical care, visit family and friends. It’s the kind of thing that is sort of baked into the DNA of Ford Motor Company, starting with our founder who literally put the world on wheels and created the highway systems as a result of it.
What’s happening today is we’ve got version 2.0 of that happening. And this is not being fueled by the moving assembly lines, it’s being fueled by technology. It’s being fueled by artificial intelligence and connected car and advanced computing. And it’s opening up new pathways of offering mobility choices. And what we have embraced at Ford, and something I’m really super excited about is the fact that we’re taking an approach of thinking about how to bring that to society in a way that the services can be trusted.
You’ll hear our CEO and other Ford executives describe our winning aspiration of being the world’s most trusted mobility company, building smart vehicles in a smart world. There’s a lot in that and so I need to unpack it for you for just a few minutes—for a few seconds—I won’t take a few minutes, I promise.
It starts with trust and you know we’re building that on a foundation of providing mobility for over a hundred years. And we use our credibility and our legacy and our history of focusing on safe mobility, focusing on meeting the human need and we’re adding to that understanding how to layer in, feather in, advanced technologies in a responsible way. That’s why we’re not racing or rushing to bring autonomous vehicles to market before it’s ready.
We’re focused on making sure we get the design right so that we take a human centered approach to bring the technologies into a city with a spirit of collaboration and partnership, with the spirit of understanding what is the human need, and how would an autonomous vehicle or connected car that is semi-autonomous be introduced into that society in a way that is going to make the experience of being mobile better. It’s going to reduce congestion, it’s going give people new options, and it’s going to solve challenges and open up new pathways and new freedoms for the people that use that vehicle as well as the services connected to the vehicle. That’s the smart world part of it.
We have to recognize that vehicles and transportation devices exist in a world that’s increasingly intelligent. And we’ve been talking about it all day today and yesterday. And so, we have to harness that intelligence and design the intelligence in the vehicles to interact with the intelligence in the world. That’s what we’re focused on and bringing our solutions, whether it’s autonomous or not, to the market. And I’m super excited about doing that and I look forward to the rest of the conversation.
Erez: My name is Nir Erez and I am the cofounder and CEO of Moovit. Moovit started about six years ago and today it’s the world leading mobility app in the world. So, we were able to grow and cross 300 million users last quarter. We’re growing at about one million new users every month. Moovit helps people to move from point to point within the urban areas by providing information about—started with public transit, but now aggregating all means of transportation into one app. It includes, of course, public transit but also ride sharing, ride hailing, bicycle or rental bicycles and scooters all together.
Side by side with doing that, I mean we also collect about four billion data points from our users every day. This raw information is being transformed into meaningful mobility information that helps cities today to get better utilization of the existing infrastructure.
Costa: And Sean?
Co: Hello, my name is Sean Co. I’m the General Manager of Strava Metro. Strava is the home of your connected athletic life, as we would like to say. It’s the application that if you’re out going for a run or bike ride, you use a device like a watch or a smart phone to upload that activity and then see how you compare to your past performance as well as to your peers’ performance. In Metro which is a division within Strava, we take all those activities form the tens of millions of users worldwide and we license that data to public agencies to use in planning.
Right now, cities just in the U.S. at least, just don’t have the best data available to them on how they make decisions. So, there’s billions of dollars of decisions being made in the U.S. based on pretty poor data. The question that we gauge in many communities, and for bicycling at least, is based on a census question that gets asked once every ten years or once every five years depending on your metropolitan area, and that’s, “How did you get to work last week?” And so, you’re being asked this one question, it then fuels into public agencies, they make decisions, but we’re really there to help inform the decisions and to really help public agencies understand where people are moving in their cities.
Costa: It’s interesting, we were talking before the panel. There’s actually a lot of similarities between Moovit and Strava in that their user-generated data is what’s actually adding the value in driving the application. And I think when we think about transportation, we think that you’re going to go to the cities and you’ll get information and then you’ll deliver that to consumers, but both of your companies are doing it the other way around. You’ve got consumers that are giving you data, which you are then licensing back to the cities. What is the response with municipalities in cities when you come to them with this data? Do they understand how valuable it is?
Erez: You know, when we started Moovit six years ago, about 15% of the large cities around the world had information about transit that could be aggregated and created a multimodal trip plan. Just 15%. So, we figured out that we needed to build it ourselves. Today we provide a service in more than 2,600 cities around the world and we release a service in a new city every 15 hours. And the only way we could do that, because we only have a 130 employees these days, and back then we only had 12, is because we were able to build a community that helped us generate the data.
Now back to your question, when we generate the data, we go back to the cities, they’re so happy about that. They’re so grateful that they actually adapt the idea and make us the official app of the city. So, one thing is that they couldn’t have the data. The other type of cities that we’ve talked to had some portions of the data but they were not willing to share it. I think this whole concept changed dramatically today. Cities are way more open to accept us, get our data, learn something out of it, and even promote us in order to get more information. So we see way more openness these days about that.
Costa: And Strava?
Co: Yes, so we’ve partnered with over 300 public agencies all over the world. And I think the challenge for us is, you know, many of you have probably found in dealing with the more entrenched, the older customers, it takes the longest time to deal with, right? So it takes the longest time to like sell your service, to close your deal. Cities are the oldest customer that you can potentially work with. They’ve been around for thousands of years—many thousands in the U.S. not that old relative to Europe. I think there’s a lot of interest in the data. It’s really getting cities to use the data to solve old problems with new ways and that’s kind of the challenge. They haven’t had these data sets that we’ve talked about before so they’re interested, they’re not quite sure how to incorporate that into their existing processes and our challenge is to help them figure that out.
Washington: If it’s okay, can I jump in on this too?
Costa: Yes, please. Absolutely.
Washington: Because I think it’s a fascinating development because it’s a great example of what I was talking about when I said smart world. Because, you know, our cell phones are instrumented and chock full of data and the services that you guys offer is creating this massive data. We really have a tsunami of data available to us. And so, we’re no different. So we’ve had, for a long time, a massive, sitting on a treasure trove of data, that we previously just ignored because the cars weren’t connected. And we didn’t view it from the point of view how would you leverage the vehicles that are actually on the roads today as data probes and data collection points. But now we’re looking at it that way. And so, you’ve got the services like the companies represented here as well as the data that comes from vehicles.
We have over 90 million vehicles on the road today. Just our company. And so just think of the power of the insight that you can gain from capturing data from those vehicles. But you’re not going to be able to do that if people don’t trust that you’re going to use it responsibly so the trust factor comes in and you’ve got to be—you have to be—intentional about it, otherwise you won’t be able to harvest the power out of it.
Costa: I want to ask a question to each of you because I think you’ll have a very different solutions to the problem—but we had an election last week and Staten Island elected a Democrat as their representative. And it had nothing to do with Trump, it had nothing to do with the Democratic party. It was because he was talking about the commute and people care about their commute. Their commute effects their lives. I’ve got a couple of statistics. In South Dakota, they have the shortest commute of any state in the country. It is 16.5 minutes on average. The longest average commute is in Washington, D.C. It is 43 minutes. So, my question to you is that is this going to get better or worse in the next five to ten years and what is your company doing to make it better?
Washington: Sure, I’ll start. So, you know, things improve that you design for. And so, if you introduce new technology into an urban environment like an autonomous vehicle or a micro transit service, or a ride hailing service, and you don’t design the introduction into that city with the goal of reducing congestion, you’re not going to reduce congestion unless you just get lucky. And I think that’s what we’re experiencing today. Between now and the next five to ten years, unless a company approaches the introduction of new technology in the mobility sector through the lens of I want to make the experience and the congestion in this city better rather than worse, it’s not going to get better.
And so when we approach a city to discuss how might we bring an autonomous vehicle service to that city—and we just announced the testing in Washington D.C., we’re doing a ride experience this week in Florida—so we’re doing this intentionally, so that we can test the different ways in which the autonomous vehicle can be introduced into that environment with the goal of understanding how it’s going to actually reduce congestion, improve commute times, improve the goal of people who live there which is they want to go from one point to another or you know, receive a package or have it delivered to them. And so, will it get better overall? I don’t think it naturally will. I think it will in the places where companies like Ford approach and work with the environment to design it to get better.
And one last point. And I think it’s got to be, that design, it has to take advantage of multiple mobility segments. Which is why I’m excited about companies that, like the ones represented here like Moovit and others. You know, we just announced the acquisition of a scooter company and we did that acquisition because we really believe that that’s going to be an important element of the solution. And we’re going to work with that scooter company, because now it’s part of the Ford family, to design how those scooters can be part of the system design in the city to make the experience better and to reduce the congestion.
Erez: So, you know, the way we see it is at first we look at the physics. You know, one rail can transfer about 35,000 people within an hour and one road lane, regardless if it’s bumper to bumper, can transfer a maximum of 2,000 people. So mass transit is here to stay. Now the question is how do you utilize the infrastructure in order to either improve or at least keep the situation as is. And that relates a lot to the level of openness cities have to data. Most cities, as we see, are pretty much blind to the demand. They plan today based on physical surveys. Just to give you an example, Rio de Janeiro surveys every three years and the sample is 50,000 people. We sample 50,000 people in Rio de Janeiro four times a day.
If you don’t get the mass data and look at it and try to understand how the demand looks like, you won’t be able to optimize or utilize the infrastructure regardless of what you’re going to do. And urbanization will drive into a situation where it’s going to be worse. The commute time is going to be worse. But cities that will look at information and will try to improve based on data would probably create either same situation or even better situation moving forward. So autonomous vehicle is not going to solve every problem that we have today.
Co: Yes, so for me, I’m a transportation and urban planner by training, so that really speaks to the jobs-housing imbalance. So, people are going really far distances because there’s not available housing stock where they live in order to make those short trips. But until we crack that nut, and when do, it’s really going to be about what’s the most efficient way to move people in dense urban areas. Because more of the population is becoming more urbanized worldwide. That’s a trend that is probably not going away in the short term. And so for that, you know, depending on where you are—I work in in San Francisco, so there’s rarely a time in the day that a TNC trip will compete timewise to a bike share trip, especially an e-bike share trip, really to get anywhere. I think it’s great to see these companies, especially one as old as Ford starting to embrace these new modes of transportation. And what we do in cities, it’s going to be a mix of walking, biking, scooters—if scooters stay around—
Costa: Do you think scooters will stay around?
Co: Well, it’s interesting. Bike share in the U.S. is about eight years old now, so it seems like that it’s been around for a long time and we’re starting to see that transition. It will be interesting. I think the thing that scooters solve is that really, really short trip and then the door-to-door service aspect. You know, even with bike share dock system, you have to find where to check-out your bike, then replace it. If you’re going out with a group of friends, then there’s always this thing of like do you have enough docks available? Scooters, like you’re always guaranteed rock star parking. Like you just leave it right in front of where you need to go. Like if you’re going to a bar, you just leave it in front, hopefully out of the way that is not in the room—
Washington: Neighbors aren’t always happy about that.
Co: Yes, someone doesn’t trip on it or someone in a wheelchair doesn’t trip on it, but—yes, I think it solves a really interesting problem. The question is how can cities adapt to this new mode of transportation and then how can they monitor and regulate that so that it is safe for everybody?
Washington: I want to add that I think there are an enormous number of permutations and options for how might you implement the solution of a scooter working with public transportation, working with personal vehicle ownership. And even if you toss in there bus service and micro transit service, like our chariot service, there are literally hundreds of thousands, millions of options where drop off and pickup points are, where the options for leaving the scooters are, the scenarios around routes, the stoplight timing scenarios.
We think it’s really important to imagine optimizing all of those millions of scenarios and options, which is why we’ve also started experimenting with big simulation using the power of optimization tools like quantum computing. These are the kind of creative approaches that we have to unleash to solve the problem in making the system work better because the design is inherently not optimized.
Costa: I’ve got a couple of minutes left. I want to open it up to the floor for comments. It’s a little hard to see, but if your raise your hand, I can probably spot you. It’s a lot easier to see now. Any questions? Up here in the front.
Banks: Hello, Clayton Banks from Silicon Harlem. I just wanted to ask on just the term mobility in and of itself. I know each of you have your own products and services etcetera, but when I look at New York City, for example, and the next generation mobility, if you will, that needs to come. Because we are seeing a growth in population, we’re seeing congestion, we’re seeing pollution, we’re seeing all things sort of increase as mobility becomes more and more important to us being a smart city. So, I’m curious what each of you are doing to think about the future of mobility being inclusive. Everyone can get to work at a reasonable time including somebody who may be coming from a single-family home and things of that nature. Public transportation, how that’s going to evolve—are we going to get rid of the pollution that a lot of your vehicles are creating and get more into sustainable energy and all that kind of stuff. I’m just curious what you’re investing in, cities in and of themselves, to ensure that the mobility of the future is going to be inclusive, clean, healthy, economically viable.
Erez: So if I may start, when we started Moovit six years ago, it was all about providing basic information so public transit will become an option, because it wasn’t an option for so many people around the world in so many cities. Now that we pretty much solved most of this problem around the world, you know, we’re going to reach about one billion users in about two years from now and cover most of the cities, the next step is how do you really bridge the gap over the different means of mobility or different modes of mobility. The biggest problem today is the friction you have about switching between the train to a scooter or the train to an Uber. And the friction is about payment, the friction is about timing and connectivity between different modes of transportation.
So going back to your question, I think the first stage was to solve the information problem, but then if we make this whole trip smooth and frictionless, we can transfer or switch way more people from driving a car and polluting the environment and congesting the city into mass transit and last mile mode of transportation in a way that it is going to be as easy as calling an Uber or a Lyft today.
Washington: Can I add to that? I think that’s a huge part of the answer, but I don’t think it’s the only part of the answer. I think when you posed a wicked problem, as you described it, a hard problem like that, in every other area in science and engineering, you take the problem to a lab and you study it and then you try things until and you iterate until you get it right and then you deploy it out in the real world. So we’re applying that same proven engineering and scientific method to the challenge of mobility.
And we’re using our own backyard as the living laboratory. That’s why we bought the train station in Detroit, because we wanted to bring mobility solutions and technology to the city of Detroit and try things and see what works and work with the community and viscerally understand the pain points of underrepresented people who live in Corktown and live in downtown Detroit. People who have trouble even getting to work, people who need medical care and can’t afford to take an Uber or a taxi to receive that medical care. How will we provide the mobility service which is the ultimate enabler of prosperity and of the success of society? How might we provide that solution in that environment in that laboratory? And not everything we try is going to work, but it’s the way we’re going to learn, it’s the way we’re going to design the system to work for societies and communities like Detroit and other places that look like it or that can take advantage of the learnings that we have in that environment.
Thank you for your question because it’s an incredibly important thing that we have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with humans and human need here. And the only way you can meet those human needs is to understand them first and then work with them on options that’s going to work for them.
Costa: We’re running out of time, but I think you know it’s a great place to end on but I think what’s interesting, too, is you’ve got three private companies here that are thinking about inclusion and thinking about helping people get to work every day. I worry that we don’t have the public partners for you to work with actually that are thinking about these things. Ultimately all of your businesses need to make money. There should be some kind of government infrastructure that you can partner with to help deliver these services. How do we get to that point? We’ve got 21 seconds.
Co: Well, I would say public/private partnerships, obviously, is a good place to start, but just making it easy—
[RECORDING CUTS OFF]