SXSW audio: How to Uber-ize public transit to save it

Our panel at SXSW in Austin last month, How to Uber-ize public transit to save it, agreed that there is a lot that public transit can learn from Uber in terms of selling the public on its worth. At the same time, we also agreed that Uber absolutely can’t replace transit.

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The PowerPoint slideshow that ran in the background throughout the session

I moderated and asked the panelists (Doug Kaufman of Transloc, Mike Russel of Texas Christian University, and Marlene Connor of Marlene Connor Associates) a series of questions, including:

  • In what ways should and shouldn’t public transit become like Uber?
  • Is transit nearly perfect in any place in the world, so much so that services like Uber and Lyft aren’t even necessary? Where are the candidates in the U.S. for making an “ultimate connected city?
  • What things do you think could get people in the U.S. to change our 100-year-old habit of always defaulting to driving alone?
  • What needs to happen with data sharing for public transit, private service providers, and even roads to all truly work together and make our transportation system benefit from where we are technologically?
  • What do you think autonomous vehicles will do to transit?
  • We don’t know much about what President Donald Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will do, but it seems safe to say they will want private services to complement transit as much as possible. Is this smart and how can it happen?
  • Thinking of technology and AVs, if car companies and tech companies become the big breadwinners, in what ways can that trickle back down and provide jobs and income equality?
  • If the public sector’s role in mobility were reduced (it has been doing some great things like USDOT’s Smart City Challenge and FTA’s Mobility On Demand Sandbox grants), what do you think would happen to the transportation opportunities of unbanked people and people in rural areas?
  • What do you predict we’ll be discussing 5 years from now if this panel reunites?

We finished by fielding about a dozen audience questions from the 200 or so people in attendance.

Listen to the session above or here (except the introduction, which appears to have been edited out by SXSW)

Photo of transportation options in downtown Austin during SXSW, by Paul Mackie.

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The Future

Why must transit be “saved”? When preserving its existence is not transit’s purpose. Should have horse-drawn plows been “saved” instead of changing to tractors in farming? How many would give up smartphones for carrier pigeons? Change happens and convenience and utility wins for most consumers.

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SP

“Save” by way of innovation. Just like Kodak could have been “saved” if they had stuck with the times and innovated, instead of running on their business model that only worked for that era.

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