| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter LinkedIn RSS Feed


#TranspoInTheCity: We're making progress, but we still have a long road ahead

Martin Di Caro and Tom Fairchild speak at the #transpointhecity panel. "Independence for young people used to be car keys," Di Caro said. "Now it's a smartphone."

"Data transparency will help illuminate the dark areas."

A packed house at #transpointhecity

Mingling with transportation startups like Uber at #transpointhecity

Amid a standing-room-only crowd at 1776 in the heart of the District, Ilana Preuss, vice president and chief of staff for Smart Growth America, moderated a four-person panel discussion about the changing nature of transportation in D.C. The panelists included Donna Harris, cofounder of startup hub 1776; Sita Vasan, executive director of SwitchPitch; Tom Fairchild, director of Mobility Lab; and Martin Di Caro, transportation reporter at WAMU.

"People are using public transportation more now than they did ten years ago," Preuss said, as she introduced the panelists and welcomed the crowd. "We're here to talk about what has been changing about transportation [in D.C.] and how it impacts how we get around and our quality of life."

How D.C. residents get around
Being a city resident no longer has to mean paying for monthly parking or being at the mercy of aging, sometimes unreliable public transit systems. District residents instead can choose among many options when they walk out their front doors including rideshare, bikeshare, a variety of smartphone apps that summon cabs, and the more traditional Metro or personal vehicle.

Yet, said WAMU's Di Caro, in D.C. at least, the personal auto is on its way out. "Thirty-eight percent of households in D.C. are car free," he said. "And half of all trips that are made in the District are made in something other than a single-occupant vehicle."

"Independence for young people used to be car keys. Now it's a smartphone," Di Caro said, alluding to the proliferation of ride on-demand and e-hail apps now available.

"I think there are opportunities for many more companies," SwitchPitch's Vasan said. "D.C. has boomed but the infrastructure hasn't met the demand."

That infrastructure is strained under D.C.'s growing population and influx of commuters. "Six hundred thousand people live here [in the District]," Harris said, "and the population almost doubles every day with commuters." Meeting that demand will require creativity and ingenuity, qualities that startup enterprises (in the private sector) often have in spades. The same is not always said of government entities (in the public sector). In order to move forward, these two sectors are going to have to work together.

The way forward
Mobility Lab is an Arlington-based think tank that works on transportation. By working with 20 different transportation agencies and providers and making it easy to bike, walk and use carshare, Mobility takes 45,000 cars off the road each day, Fairchild, Mobility Lab's director, said. "Behavior change requires options.

"Our goal is to get from point A to point B most efficiently," Fairchild added. "One size doesn't fit all."

"Our goal is to get from point A to point B most efficiently. One size doesn't fit all."
Clearly, then, D.C. residents and commuters have lots of options in getting from point A to point B. But how can we as a city use these options to collectively improve our quality of life—whether that means spending less time sitting in traffic on a bridge into the city, or spending fewer minutes fiddling with apps to plan which method we're going to use to get to and from work on a particular day.

Overwhelmingly, panelists pointed to open data and public-private partnerships (P3) as ways to begin to unlock the gridlock, while keeping equitability of options at the forefront of any discussion.

"Transportation is a regulated industry," Harris said. "[Disruptors] are going to get push back. You have to work inside the system. The public sector [then] becomes less of an impediment."

An audience member asked, "How do you [have these partnerships] when you have a culture clash? When you have 'Can do' vs. 'We can't do that'?"

Harris said that while not every city in the U.S. is ready for such partnerships, D.C. has "an increasing number of partnerships that are working." She explained that 1776 is a place for "high-growth startups as a whole," and that 1776 encourages "regulatory hack startups that tackle antiquated markets [in which] the convenience of the web haven't yet made [a difference]." Hitch, RidePost, RideScout, Transit Labs and Urban Delivery are all transportation startups and 1776 members.

Fairchild explained that Mobility Lab, which is a project of Arlington County Commuter Services, has hack days and fellowship programs, which encourage the private sector to get involved.

Di Caro encouraged those gathered to think outside of the government for public-private partnerships. "P3s can be with universities," he said. "You can partner with a nonprofit."

Transporting all residents
Fay Gordon, a member of the crowd, posed a question about transit serving all areas of D.C. "How do we make sure innovations are spread equally across the city?" she asked.

"The best opportunity is the one available to the broadest swath of people possible."
"It's a challenge," Fairchild allowed. "We have systems in place that give preferential treatment to certain groups." For example, salaried employees often have transportation benefits, while hourly employees don't. And Capital Bikeshare requires users to have a credit card.

Progress is coming, albeit slowly. The D.C. Taxicab Commission is putting technology into taxis to track where the cabs are going. Getting data from those cabs could help, Harris said. "Data transparency will help illuminate the dark areas [in transportation]," she said. "Data helps drive transparency, which drives better decision-making."

"The best opportunity is to reduce barriers of entry," Fairchild said. "Some [transportation options] are more affordable than others. Some require a credit card. The best opportunity is the one available to the broadest swath of people possible." 

That's our story. Here's what you had to say on social media:

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts

Related Content