Is your city interested in testing autonomous vehicles? Has it been asked to test them in the future? Jason JonMichael, the City of Austin’s Assistant Director for Smart Mobility, shares with you the considerations to think through.
Is your city built to support the test? Can it meet enough of the needs of the AV company to enter into this type of public-private partnership? What about the taxpayer?
Tune in to this episode to hear Jason’s experience. He left a private-sector career to work on these big projects in Austin.
- Jason JonMichael
- Austin’s Smart Mobility Road Map
- Google’s Waymo in Austin
- Ford AV expanding to Austin
Robert: (00:03) From GRIDSMART Technologies, this is POLICYSMART. I’m Robert Johnson. If you’re a city interested in testing autonomous vehicles or if your city has been asked to test these systems of the future, you’ve got a lot to consider and decide about your role in helping to develop the next generation of transportation tech. There’s policy, politics, and the people in your community. You’ve also got to assess whether the built environment can support the demonstration and don’t forget about procurement. Are you set up to handle the unique needs of your high tech suitors while protecting the taxpayers’ interest? Our guest today can answer these questions. A few years ago, the city of Austin decided it wanted to become the Kitty Hawk of autonomous vehicles. In 2018, Jason JonMichael left a private sector career in AV and its work to become Austin’s Orville and Wilbur Wright all rolled into one. He’s the city’s assistant director for smart mobility, and he’s here now to share his experiences with anyone looking to join the AV revolution.
Jason: (01:12) As some May remember, Austin was had a unique opportunity with the Google car project a number of years ago and we were the original launch of a demonstration of an autonomous vehicle design that was provided by Google. That led to a more defined program around preparing the city for the next disruption in transportation, which the next largest disruption in transportation after electric vehicles, which is that of automated driving system, which is something that the city of Austin is focused on, making sure that not only our community but the national community and worldwide community begin utilizing terminology that that is more apropos for what we’re trying to do. So an autonomous vehicle means that it is autonomous means that it does not communicate with anything else, doesn’t connect to the the built environment in any kind of way to share data. It is merely a robot vehicle that is willing to operate or can’t operate without a human driver.
Jason: (02:15) And what you’ve seen in recent years is a direct push by both the USDOT and its partners, its government partners like the city of Austin. And addressing that one thing, which is terminology and making sure that we’re at least communicating to our, our constituency and our residents what, what it is that we’re trying to accomplish with automated driving systems. And, and that’s the difference between autonomy and automated driving systems and automated driving system is a system as something that connects to other things that what will allow a, an automated vehicle or a vehicle that had an, has enabled its automated driving system to communicate with the traffic signal system so that it can better understand that lights are about to turn red. Uh, and those kinds of things. They’re about bringing about a more safer transportation outcome. That’s one of the things that the city of Austin is working on right after that, uh, that, uh, unique opportunity with Google, the city council created a set of resolutions that essentially espoused how Austin wanted to be the Kitty Hawk of automated driving and set forth with creation of a, uh, a program office.
Jason: (03:27) And, and therefore a, a place for me to come in and work. And so I left the private sector, uh, where I was leading a automated driving systems for our company and I came to the city of Austin to launch a program that is essentially trying to ascertain what is it, what is that have automated driving systems that the city of Austin is interested in and demonstrating, uh, so that we can get a better understanding of what policies and what things we want to see out of that technology, when it does come to market. And so we’re, we’re addressing not only the built environment, not only policy, but also the technologies that will be used as well. So it’s a, uh, a program office that’s built around preparing for the future.
Robert: (04:16) If we Google Austin and AV we see names like Ford, Waymo, INRIX. There’s mention of a downtown circulator coming this fall. There’s a lot going on.
Jason: (04:31) There is and, in order to better understand what parts and pieces of the built environment and your transportation operations, you have to figure out what, what is it about these systems that, that government needs to play a role in, be that a security or privacy or the fact that these do operate in our regulated environment. Um, you know, what, what are some of the, the other operational frictions and constraints that cities can help private sector operators overcome. So any AV would need to access the curb in order to load and unload passengers. If it’s a, a TNC fleet type of service. If it’s a, a shuttle like what you mentioned with Cap Metro, you know, that’s using automated driving systems in a mass transit type of fashion or you know, medium transit. Cause these aren’t the large buses by any means. And those have different operational constraints.
Jason: (05:23) They have different operational needs that are, that differ from that of a, of a fleet based TNC type of automated driving system. And you know, that also includes, you know, driverless delivery. Uh, so the city of Austin has a RFI out for different types of drivers’ delivery systems as well. All of these things take up space and time in our current transportation system. And if we can find ways to remove those SOVs or find a more efficient way to move goods throughout city during the day, um, that will open up some needed capacity, uh, in, in the transportation system. And it just brings about a more reliable transportation system, something that where people can rely on a certain type of travel time, a metric between, uh, two points of interest that they typically use on a daily basis.
Robert: (06:17) There was an initial Google project that brought Austin to the table. Can you talk about that? And when it happened?
Jason: (06:26) It was around, uh, 2014, city of Austin was approached by Google to launch a self-driving demonstration in the Miller district community of Austin. And so that, that demonstration ran for a number of, of months, almost a full year where the Ab provided rides for different people. Or sometimes Google just had the AV out doing test runs. And that was the Austin’s first experience with the navy where human drivers were coexisting with automated driving systems. What we’ve learned from that is that where there’s a lot of technology that’s required in order to get these cars to drive themselves, if that’s not really the focus of city and the transportation department, we’ll leave that to the private sector or private sector partners to continue to iterate their designs and continue to create a, a more elaborate automated driving system. What’s interesting is the the level of human behavior element that comes into play related to automated driving systems, so automated driving systems, they follow the, the traffic code to the T.
Jason: (07:36) Right. In fact, they’re what you would consider to be some of the more conservative driving out there because of the, the level of conservativeness I would say that is currently in the code. And so what we’re noticing is that it’s causing human drivers to retrain their brains in some ways to make sure that they’re cognizant that they’re, they’re coexisting in this space and time at an intersection perhaps with an automated, with a car that isn’t automated, that is driving via automated driving systems. And that that is what we at the city of Austin feel is a unique place for the city of Austin to help drive the, the overall market. Uh, we’re a unique city. We have considered a city of innovators. So we like change. We like seeing new things and we find ourselves in a, in an opportunity where if we partner with these private sector companies that are offering these new modes of transportation, we can connect people to those new modes and drive those experiences through driving those experiences is how we yield a more safer transportation environment as a whole human human experience and human driving and human human behavior.
Jason: (08:48) In the transportation system is the one thing that we’re trying to help solve in some ways related automated driving over 90% of all fatalities and the United States occur because of human error. And this will help continue to reduce those deaths, which are still hovering around 45,000 deaths a year. Around a hundred, a little over a hundred a day.
Robert: (09:12) The city went from fielding a request, which got it into this game to seeking partners. Is that how it normally goes?
Jason: (09:22) Not always. I think the city of Austin recognize that this new technology, and really it’s the services that this technology would enable is what brings around, you know, more of the outcomes that cities like the city of Austin are interested in seeing. So we recently adopted a strategic direction 23 so by setting out basically a set of six goal outcomes that the city is, is focused on delivering to its, to its residents. So one of those is mobility, but another one is safety and health. And what we’ve noticed in in that Google car project was that the gentleman with the little hat on, the blonde gentleman, he’s an Austinite, and he’s from Austin and that was the first blind person to take a ride in an AV in the United States. And that really opened up our minds of what the technology could enable as far as services to our citizens.
Jason: (10:18) And that’s where we focused our program. Our program is focused around answering the hard things first and then from that allowing company to go to market. Although you know, with the state law, they don’t need to come to Austin, ask for permission. They don’t have to come to the city to ask for permission to launch on the roads. But the partners, the, the OEMs, the, the companies that are providing these services, they know that they can offer a much better experience, a more richer customer experience if they do work with the cities. Right. And find ways to access curbs and remove some of the frictions that one of the state law doesn’t. That purposely doesn’t take into account because that’s something that the state saw that the city was, would, would take on. And so there’s this natural kind of pecking order of, of what a municipal government could do related to enabling these technologies.
Jason: (11:10) And you know, a lot of folks might ask why Jason? Why goes through enabling this? Why are you creating more work for yourself? Well, it’s because we see the potential in the technology and how the services that then coalesce around that technology could, could offer meaningful change in the mobility index for those that have the least amount of mobility currently available to them. And so we’re working with the Texas school for the blind and visually impaired, for instance, and better understanding what their community means related to mobility and how automated driving systems can be a part of that solution. We create scenarios. So we, we’ve created a prototyping environment here in Austin. Uh, we utilize all of the, the, um, the tools that the feds have developed for us to use. So I use most of the USDOT toolset related, connected and autonomous vehicles.
Jason: (12:07) They use their transportation systems management. And operations framework to build out the the the data framework of what we’re doing and and the operational framework and then we utilize scenario planning approaches, so we’ve went to a more iterative planning approach rather than the old school waterfall approach on, on planning these things out, so we go out into the community, we talk with the our community partners and constituents about what are some of the things that they’re seeing that that they need help with, what are some of their mobility challenges and then we bring those back and we create scenarios around those and then we take those scenarios back to the community, share those with them, get more feedback and then ultimately those scenarios are then used as sort of a litmus test to different types of technologies or service solutions that are built around new technologies and how we address whether or not they serve a municipal purpose or not.
Robert: (13:03) You have political cover because the city council took action. You mentioned that. But I assume that the feedback process also gives you a stronger endorsement from the community that might otherwise be a little uncertain about all these things happening that people aren’t directly in control of. Do you find the political piece of this to be a working well for the city at this point?
Jason: (13:30) It is. I think we have, it started the process and it’s what attracted me to leave the private sector and come and do this. There’s more to do. Uh, it’s, it’s enough of a, of some bookends to give us some room. And now what we’re doing is we’re moving forward with meaningful other policies and resolutions that help further support both the goals that have been set out in the resolutions that put them forth so far. Plus, there’s one other thing that I failed to mention earlier in our, in our cast today, which is that of the, um, uh, the Austin strategic mobility plan, which was recently adopted a couple months ago from, by mayor and council. And so in that strategic mobility plan, which was probably the city’s last waterfall plan approach for mobility, there are specific elements related to smart mobility in there, uh, autonomy, connectivity, and how those drive, again, those, those SD 23 goals around mobility and equity and health and others.
Robert: (14:29) The city has been intentional for the last four or five years on this topic. There really isn’t another way to do it and live to tell about it.
Jason: (14:39) No, there’s not. I would say that any city that’s interested in doing this, be bold, go forth and create and learn with the private sector and that’s what we’re doing. It’s not that we’re picking and choosing winners, we’re merely activating our right-away so that the private sector can iterate their products and solutions. Being that I’m from the private sector originally 25 years, this is my first public sector position, but one of the things that I’m trying to change is how cities work with a private sector. Private sector tries to get it right the first time, but most times like any new invention or anything new, it’s not perfect. The first iteration, it takes massaging that too through further iterations of that solution to figure out exactly how that’s going to work, how it’s going to help the private sector meet a bottom line goal, how that’s going to help the community drive service and solutioning for its, for its residents.
Jason: (15:32) There’s better ways to do that. Then going through the age old procurement process of buying three year old technology. And that’s part of the issue. I mean you’ve heard it many times over and many podcasts and conferences that government can’t buy innovation the way that government buys everything else. Well that’s true and we’ve been trying to solve that, but we’ve, we’ve kept one key word in there by, and I would say that there’s probably a different way. The private companies, they don’t necessarily need to sell their Beta units today. They just need to get it out there and get it to the next iteration so they can really sell it competitively. So in a lot of ways what we’re doing here at the city of Austin is we’re through this rapid prototyping program where we’re trying out new technologies in a very fast paced environment that allows both the city, its partners, its community partners because it’s not just us and the are our private sector partners to iterate, but our designs as a whole, as one unit.
Jason: (16:34) So if that’s something where we’re looking to enable more rides for those that are visually impaired for instance, then that is a scenario with certain problem statements that that group of that team, that group of City private sector and say, you know, the Texas School for the blind and maybe another community based organization that supports the school can work together to create a meaningful solution around mobility for visually impaired residents in Austin. That completely changes the way that you look at providing transportation services, which you know, for the better part of of our vehicle based lives of transportation. We’ve been focused on on the slow burn of providing more, more infrastructure for cars and not really thinking about how we could get people to utilize our transportation infrastructure in a more meaningful and more efficient and less carbon admitting way.
Robert: (17:32) Doesn’t this really go beyond what is normally taught in civil engineering school? You’ve got to have vision and be thinking about things that aren’t even on the table yet, don’t you?
Jason: (17:45) It certainly does. It doesn’t in any way discount that school related to our industry though because that’s still needed and will be needed regardless of all of the wonderful scenarios and new technologies that we bring. The interesting thing there is is that at the, at the, at the traffic signal level and at the traffic engineering level, it’s still flow dynamics. At the end of the day, they’re still trying to move as many people through a corridor or through an area of the city. What we’re doing is we’re, we’re helping that industry out our, where we’re helping our whole industry on. It’s not that it’s split up or anything, but we’re helping each other out by, the one thing that the engineers do is they focus almost solely on the built environment and the operations of that built environment. What smart mobility is doing is connecting the political goals of a, of a city and a city management, which let’s just say for the city of Austin, that’s, you know, reduction of SOV trips and an increase in and drain mobility, right? Shared otherwise. And we’re finding ways to incentivize that usage through other programs in the city. And then ultimately, as I mentioned earlier, through the change of human behavior. So for instance, in my smart mobility program, we have a placemaking program, like the sidewalk cafes and all that stuff. And a lot of my colleagues are like, Jason, why do you, why are you, why are you doing that?
Jason: (19:19) Right? Cause it’s traditionally not transportation, but every one of those cafe goers took one mode of transportation, even the age old mode of walking to get there and they’ll go somewhere else after that luncheon. Some. More importantly, I have an opportunity. If it’s my place right now, I’m the one that’s helping build that place. I have an opportunity to have to share an experience with those people. And in that sharing of, of that experience, of the, of that time that I have with them, I’m going to help showcase new ways that they can move around the city and how that could ultimately change their happiness, uh, of mobility. How that, you know, and that gets into people’s own personal behaviors and wants and needs. And you know, some people would be very happy spending a little bit more time in the mobility system if it meant that their carbon footprint was neutral.
Jason: (20:07) Others may not focus so much on the environmental sustainability of mobility, but are more focused on, I need to make sure that my kids have rides while I’m at work. And so it’s different between who it is and the community. But at the end of the day, it’s not just about building roads and bridges and putting up traffic signals and trying to make the built environment pristine. It’s about better understanding how people are utilizing that environment because they’re not using it the way that engineer’s intended to use it today. Human behavior, you’ll find any way to get around the friction, right? I mean that’s the reason there’s traffic control devices in place today, right? Bollards and other Hash marks to keep you out of certain areas because those areas were deemed unsafe or if their vehicle was in there, it made the pedestrians near there unsafe. And so how people are getting around cities and all kinds of new ways today, ways that weren’t thought of when the built environment was engineered and put into place. I think what you’re going to see happen in the next decade is a a true paradigm shift and how engineers look at how they plan and build out that built environment. I think you’re gonna see it move from a more into an iterative, more agile way of developing and implementing strategies around engineering, streets and sidewalks and TNC drop off zones and you know how people are utilizing micro mobility, like the scooters and other things like that. It changes the built environment.
Robert: (21:41) Speaking of agility, I’m going back to a, one of the areas you touched on, I think we should explore it a little bit more and that is procurement. What is Austin doing differently to help enable this process of testing all of these systems and ideas on your streets and infrastructure from the procurement perspective, how is that working?
Jason: (22:06) So what we’ve done, uh, in order to help alleviate some of the challenges and Austin’s unique in that we were one of the seven finalists of the USDOT smart cities challenge. So nationally we got this recognition and, and thus the, the hard sell, right? That came after the fact that we came in second. Um, the, uh, private sector companies started coming with a lot of different offers, right? And that it could completely take away the, the operational functionality of the department if you allow it, right? You could spend all of your time just dealing with answering, uh, open records requests and other things that the private sector is wanting to know about your data or your operations so they can figure out how to come in with a proposal and how to fix something. And that’s where the city of Austin was, uh, when I, when I joined.
Jason: (22:58) So one of the first things we wanted to do was, um, create sort of the gate and moat kind of concept on these unsolicited proposals coming in so that we could, that we could spend some time, take a breath, collect some scenarios as I mentioned before, so that the next time somebody comes with an offer, we can at least see whether or not it matches any of our needs. And so we created the smart mobility, uh, framework, uh, here for the city of Austin underneath, that, those resolutions sets. And then from that we created a, an expression of interest form. Essentially, the part of my office is a, is a P3 office or public private partnership office. And that’s where we focus on these demonstrations. And so we’re not necessarily throwing away the procurement process right now. We’re trying to, um, we’re really trying to make it more efficient and make it take away some of the, uh, uh, uh, the chaos.
Jason: (23:57) Some of the uncertainties related to city procurement and how something that’s so innovative, uh, that where you can’t find a commonality between, between three different vendors, you know, how do they go about trying to propose on something? How do you as a city go about, you know, espousing that I am advertising that I want this thing when that one thing could be construed as being proprietary because only one company is doing it right now. And so the way that we get around that and that, you know, Austin is a city of innovators. We want to be able to, to support our community, support our business community, support our, our, our innovator community. We need to find ways that we can get them the needed, uh, next steps. It might not mean a contract with the city. It might not mean anything more than a a period of time where they’re working very, um, direct and in close coordination with the city.
Jason: (24:52) But we, we’ve done it so that there is no exchange of value or money. So in essence, I’ve thrown away the RFI process today. I’ve, I’ve created a process where companies can come in and propose their solution. They don’t have to share intellectual property because if they share that with the city, then I’m bound by, by open records laws and then another, their competitor can ask for that information and I’ll be compelled to give it to them. So knowing that, that was my issue when I was in the private sector, the thing that I wanted to fix was, okay, how do I get to the next step with the private sector? How do I at least get them to where they can iterate their, they can showcase their product, they can put it in operation. I can watch it and I can see how it iterates over time.
Jason: (25:38) Right. Are they just providing something and they’re not really, they don’t have a roadmap to, to, you know, make it better and they’re just trying to, you know, Ponzi a sale and the smart mobility marketplace today. Or is this a company that is providing something that is going to, that has the propensity to be a, a paradigm shifting technology for the industry. Right? And there’s, that’s part of the qualification. And so one of the, the easiest thing that we could do is in that expression of interest form where a private sector company or, or even a team, um, were to propose something. We ask one simple question, but this one question actually gets a lot of the folks that are just looking to create sales lists and other things, they move on, they move past us. Um, and that’s state your municipal purpose of the project that you’re proposing.
Jason: (26:28) It’s very simple, right? Tell me how you’re going to change something that’s important to me. And if you’ve done your homework, private sector, you’ll know what is important to me already because again, we’ve, we’ve made that all publicly available. So companies that have the inclination to go and understand the city and what the city needs and then figure out how their product or service can, can help provide solutions to that or, and then meaningfully create that through, through answering one simple question on an expression of interest form immediately cuts down the number of invaluable private sector offerings that are out there on set. And it puts, it takes the others that may be a little too soon. They’re going to market too soon. It causes them to go back to the drawing board and we see them come back with a more meaningful solution the second time around.
Jason: (27:20) And so what has done is it’s allowed the city to kind of, um, address the, the voracity of what was happening, but then also put it back, put the onus back on in the private sector of go learn what we want. And then based off of that, come to us with a solution. And then then also as a level of the fish, I can’t hire enough people to do it the other way, but this puts it back in the, in the hands of the private sector for them to go learn about us. Rather than us asking them, asking us a bunch of questions and going through a series of meetings where they essentially gain all this information that they could otherwise gain if they just, you know, took the initiative to go out and understand what the city needs.
Robert: (28:03) The upside of that for you is you get to see everything. You’re not limiting yourself based on a process that most people in the private sector loathe.
Jason: (28:14) Correct. Correct. And in fact that it’s caused those in the private sector that have a meaningful solution to come racing to my front door, which is great. And it, and that allowed us to kind of look at, okay, well we’re not ready for it for this particular element yet. There’s some stuff that we have to do on our side, but then when we’re ready, the next step after the RFI process is to go through a challenge. Very similar to what the USDOT smart cities challenge was. I mean, otherwise, how, how does a federal government agency take the lion share of their funding for the year that they normally spread like peanut butter across the United States and award it to one city and award it to the city. You know, they went, they went around the typical trickle down of federal government, the state government, the city government, and they direct funded city government.
Jason: (29:03) That was a paradigm shift. That was a change on purpose by the federal government to begin directly funding cities for these smart city related elements because it’s so much about in the behavior and you have to find ways to capture and communicate with, uh, with the person that’s utilizing the system that day. Uh, and that’s something that’s done at the local government level. It’s the reason why we’re all here. You’re either the reason why there’s the different levels of government. I mean without that, it wouldn’t have the, the, the amount of personal privacy protections and other things that are, that are so desperately needed in order to make sure that these new technologies do see their time in the sun and the marketplace.
Robert: (29:47) If you like an approach, are you limited then in your ability to acquire it or do you have to start over with procurement? How does it work if something passes the test?
Jason: (29:59) So the, and they’re there, it’s not that they, we’ve got all of the framework fully built out to where we can just completely go around procurement. That would, that’s a, a future state that probably will take more than just the city of Austin to do before we get to that point, that’s a cultural shift that the United US government has to find some way to find ways to take clear winners that as long as you’ve been through the process, you’ve got to remember the RFI and RFP process. They’re, they’re merely tools that that yield and outcome that government needs, right? Which is being fair and ethical and being transparent. So if I’ve, what I’ve engineered with the RFI or with what I call the rapid prototyping smart mobility process, I’ve replaced the RFI process, which wasn’t really getting cities what they need, right? I mean, as a, when I was a private sector executive, whenever I got an RFI, the very first thing I did was I sat down with my team and I went through, okay, what can we, what can we propose and what can’t we propose?
Jason: (31:05) Because some of the things I’d want to propose, you can’t propose because it’d be an, it’d be a public document and then your, your, your competitor would know your roadmap, right? And so even with an RFI, you’re not getting the best in class information from those that respond if you even get any responses. Right. Most private sector companies know that they have to pull back on that response, otherwise they’re giving away the farm. So knowing that and being cognizant of that and being that I was on the private sector, I wanted meaningful information to come back from the private sector. More importantly, I wanted meaningful experiences of us working together. Right? To where then government can say, yes, we’ve been a part of the development of x and it was headed this way. We didn’t like it. We changed this thing and this is what we changed in order to better it for everyone.
Jason: (31:53) And that’s the purpose of government and how government works with private sector and innovation. Innovation is going to continue to move forward in its own pace. What government can do is not stifle innovation but find ways to help steer it, steer it in a way that that brings about the level of benefit and the benefits of all. Right. Cause a lot of, a lot of innovation is built around benefiting all it’s around benefiting of you. How you get it to benefit all is really, it’s all in the secret sauce of how private sector works with government to figure out, oh, we can do that. We can add that, that function or that element to our, to our, our solution. Um, then it doesn’t necessarily create any undue, onerous, uh, capital expense. It doesn’t create any undue, um, um, revenue issues. And so if you can find ways to work together in that, in that regard, you can take something that was, uh, like many inventions are built around consumerism and find ways that it works for both consumers that have the opportunity to take advantage of that as well as find ways to work with cities to create other meaningful subsidized services that can also offer a similar, uh, solution to those that don’t have the means to get access to that service.
Robert: (33:12) So you’ve got the political slash policy aspect working for you through the city council and some of the things you’re doing with the elected leaders of the community. You’ve got this procurement approach, which seems to be bringing the cream of the crop to the table there in Austin. What are we missing? What else is part of this formula others ought to be taking note of?
Jason: (33:40) I’d say that the last piece really gets down into the, I won’t say the weeds, but it’s, it’s, it’s where it’s where the soup gets made. It’s, it’s down in the staff level of any city, uh, and how the departments work together. So, and that’s related to, you know, if you’re here in the city of Austin, we have both Austin Transportation Department as well as capital Metro, which is our transit authority, which is a separate organization. Uh, and then like, like any city, we, we also have a state DOT, we have a regional metropolitan planning organization that has the transportation element and we also have a toll authority, local toll authority. So when you add it all up. There’s a vast landscape of stakeholders that are all involved in some area of mobility. And I run part of the city. However, not everyone lives in the city.
Jason: (34:32) In fact, most people in Austin live in one of the bedroom communities, right. And they, and they commute in. And so it’s important for me to work with my other regional partners to make sure that, that we’re, we’re in locks up with one another because we can’t be seen as being, uh, against one another as initiatives or any of that kind of stuff. When we’re, when we’re communicating to the public, the public needs to know that we’re, that we are, um, we are connected and coordinated related to delivering service, mobility services and, and that’s, that’s what we’re doing here in the city is we’re finding ways to take age old institutional frictions and through new mobility, emerging mobility solutions because it’s new and it’s a way that you can look at something new and not bring any baggage of the past with it. And that could just, a lot of times that’s just different than the, and the different, uh, organizations.
Jason: (35:24) And what’s their core services, you know, of core service of a DOT is different than the core service of a city transportation department. One’s focused on long haul and major trucking and getting people long distances and the other one’s focused on all the frictions, commute and downtown and all that stuff. And how do we together create an opportunity to, to shake loose some rust of generations past? Find new ways to get to yes on new initiatives that are paramount and finding new ways to connect to the people. And that’s one of the biggest things that I think any city can do is, is help your other transportation, government partners find ways to hold relevancy and hold communications with the people of your town. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just the city that is responsible for delivering mobility, but it’s all of us and it takes my partners at TEX DOT to help me get those people when they’re in their roads or outside in the counties. I need ways to help drive the same messaging or different messaging to make sure that we’re, we’re, we’re touching those people and we’re finding ways to take care of the bedroom, community, commuters, commuters as well. Cause it’s not just about mass transit and walking and using scooters downtown. It’s everything and everyone that uses that stuff downtown where they had to get there from somewhere and most of them live in another area that my partners are also helping me provide those mobility solutions.
Robert: (36:53) Your private sector experience from more than two decades of work put you in a lot of communities. You’ve seen many models you’ve met and worked with lots of people in this business. Is it possible for everyone to be bold and if so, what do they need to do to get there? How can they begin to replicate if they’re interested in what you’re doing, the things that you’re doing in their own cities and towns?
Jason: (37:21) I think so. I think regardless of your geo political position, any city can find a way to be bold and it’s just, you know, you’re not, you’re not, you’re not comparing it against another city. You should be comparing it against yesterday for you. You know, if you’re a city that, that hasn’t had any level of progressive mobility solutions developed, then you know, being bold around just creating a, a community based organization where you can have meaningful conversations with government and community and private sector is a way to be bold. And a lot of cities and states around the country are creating these different smart mobility consortia that at least allow public sector to begin learning what the private sector is wanting to sell here very soon, if not already. And a lot of that’s going to involve the city and some of it won’t. So a lot of the things, it’s better for you to be cognizant of what’s going to happen in the future regardless of whether or not you have the ability to regulate it.
Jason: (38:23) Because if you, if you don’t have the ability to regulate it means you don’t have the ability to then manage it, which, and if it’s still going to happen and still going to come, then it behooves you to, to learn as much as you can about the technology, the operations, the other things, the financing, the cybersecurity and PII related to whatever that is. So that you can find ways to support it appropriately without regulating it, I’ll call it, which, you know, and supporting it could mean could mean making sure that private sector understands what’s important to a city. Related to that, even though they may not be able to regulate it as a city, we can at least have a meaningful conversation about what it is that we considered to be, um, the right way to operate in our city.
Robert: (39:07) I’m guessing you get a lot of requests to share what you’ve learned.
Jason: (39:13) Yes sir. I do. But it’s fun. Um, and that’s part of the reason why I left the private sector. There’s a lot of intellectual property in the private sector and it’s going to stay there and it’s never going to end up in the American citizens hands and brains and eyes if we don’t find some way to get this, this type of subject matter expertise built in government. And that’s part of my purpose here is to raise the tide of the city of Austin. A point where I’m not needed anymore.
Robert: (39:46) No, there’s always the city down the road, right? Not now though. City Council,
Jason: (39:53) At my age, I think this is, this is, this is one of those, this is one of those jobs where I’ll never be successful at it. You know, it’s one of those that you just keep on working at in the hand it to the next guy because it’s, there’s one constant in all of this. And that’s the humans. I mean, if we, if we could solve human behavior, I wouldn’t need speed limits. I wouldn’t need traffic signs. And I wouldn’t need traffic cops, so autonomy is going to bring around a lot of new things, but it’s not going to completely solve human behavior until we have removed it from the driving system, which will never happen. You won’t have full autonomy and at least the way that I look at it, you’ll always have the need for human driven elements of any mobility system, but it does start changing the numbers and that’s the biggest thing we in a sense, since mandatory seat belts and airbags and ABS brakes and other things, we’ve, we’ve reduced it from 160 something thousand 20 years ago down to the 40 something thousand of today, but we’re stuck. We haven’t been able to to unlock that next reduction in and traffic crash deaths and on our nation’s roads and that reason is is because we’ve focused everything on protecting driver and passenger and pedestrian. Once an incident occurs, once a crash happens. These technologies that we’re working on today are the technologies that would avert an incident from happening in the first place, which is our natural next step as we move towards vision zero is work on the built environment, work on the cars, work on the people.
Robert: (41:27) Yeah, we can all use a little work.
Jason: (41:30) Yeah, well it’s just about helping people understand that their, their behaviors out there and not only represent their own personal safety index but also affect the safety of everyone else out there.
Robert: (41:44) Links to information about the Austin program can be found in the show notes for this episode that does it for this edition of POLICYSMART. If you like our show, be sure to share it with your colleagues. You can also leave us a rating and a review. Those are helpful and much appreciated. If you have a question or comment, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. POLICYSMART is a podcast production of GRIDSMART Technologies. Until next time, I’m Robert Johnson. We’ll see you then.