What Would Happen if there was a Specific Goal?


What Would Happen if there was a Specific Goal?

I have always been suspect of grants given by the Feds for programs that seem to be an experiment, with no real goal in life. A good example of that is SF Park. The city got $20 million from the federal government with the goal of monitoring parking meters, understanding occupancy, and instituting a variable pricing program, block by block in the city.

Now the program has ended, the sensors monitoring the occupancy has been turned off, and the variable pricing is set based on statistical historic data. Studies of SF Park have concluded that the result of the program has had little actual impact on the on street parking in the city.

In other words, the 20 mil is spent, the technology purchased is no longer in use and the goals set through the use of that technology has gone by the wayside. The program has had tremendous PR, but what, in reality, did it accomplish. For further information I commend to you a study done by Vanderbilt University: Understanding the Block-Level Price Elasticity of On-Street Parking Demand: A Case Study of San Francisco’s SFpark Project, 2016.

This brings us to and article in “Tech Crunch” about Columbus, OH, and the Smart City Project. SF Park was a piker compared to the 50 million received by Columbus to smarten up its commuter and transportation system. The city won the grant (40 million from the Feds, 10 from the Paul Allen foundation). They proceeded to spend the money on a multi user app (from a startup), 1.5 million; an open source database, 15.9 million; smart mobility hubs, a pr program, 1.3 million; a connected vehicle program to reduce traffic accidents, 11.3 million; an autonomous shuttle program that cost 2.3 million and ran two weeks; a prenatal health app, which ran 1.3 million; and a 1.3 million program through ParkMobile which is still running and strangely enough, seems to be the only truly successful program of any on the list. That totals 34.9 million. An unspecified amount of the Paul Allen 10 million has gone to the local utility to help incentivize local drivers to purchase and use EVs.

Five years ago the money was funded. It’s spent. And just what is the result. Is transportation in Columbus smarter? Is traffic moving safer? Are EVs flying out of the showrooms? Are local transportation groups making use of the database? Is the Multi-user app helping folks get around in central Ohio? The Autonomous Shuttle seems to be at the side of the road. Have Traffic accidents been reduced? The parking app is working with over 30,000 locals downloading the app. It apparently will continue after the funding for the others runs out. Read all about it on Parknews.biz.

I don’t mean to criticize Columbus. These federal grants can be seductive. But it seems to me that the money is gifted, and then spent, without any long term project or goal in mind. It’s like a way to give ideas a chance without any particular recourse in the event of failure or even an understanding what constitutes failure.

This one was surrounded by buzz words.

The U.S. Department of Transportation launched a Smart City Challenge in 2015, which asked mid-sized cities across the country to come up with ideas for novel smart transportation systems that would use data and tech to improve mobility.

In mid-June, the program ended, but Columbus said the city would continue to work as a “collaborative innovation lab,” using city funds to integrate technology to address societal problems.

We really focus on not just demonstrating technology for technology’s sake, but to look at the challenges we are facing in our city around mobility and transportation and use our award to focus on some of those challenges,” Mandy Bishop, Smart Columbus program manager, told TechCrunch.

Wow! I wonder what would happen if specific goals were set up and if they weren’t reached, the city had to refund the grant. Right! As if that would happen.



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. I like the “technology for technology’s sake” comment. That seems to be a common denominator in a lot of recent “innovations” in our industry. I was in a virtual meeting with a client recently and he was bragging about all the information his parking manager was able to provide from their “new smart parking” operating system. He proceeded to give me all sorts of examples of the reports they could generate, and talking about all the statistics they now had. I asked him (and the Parking Manager sitting beside him) what any of it meant in relation to making the actual operation any smarter, and neither one had a clue of how to answer. They just knew they could get all this data at the touch of a button.

    Just as “technology for technology’s sake” is a waste of money, we can say the same about “data for data’s sake”.

    You are spot on in saying there needs to be a clearly stated goal with all these programs and innovations that are getting millions of $’s of public and private funds, funds that could probably serve a much higher purpose. It’s not exactly rocket science to establish/define a goal.

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