Don’t You Love Efficiency?
Walking out of the terminal at the Los Angeles International airport the other day I was greeted by clogged lanes of traffic, drivers honking, engines idling and a game of curbside chicken as drivers lunge and halt, trying to get to waiting passengers.
I hate this. It’s so inefficient, not to mention frustrating, stressful, smelly and noisy.
How Do We Stop the Madness?
The system at the airport turns us into a victim of its inefficiency. But what if we could be a driver of efficiency instead? That is Ford’s goal. The company has been working on this for a while. The #2 car maker in the US and #5 globally—and seller of the #1 pick up truck and #1 SUV in the US—has already developed ride share and bike share programs.
Recently, Ford brought together some of the world’s top thinkers on city planning, urban infrastructure, autonomous transportation and 21st century visionaries at its “City of Tomorrow” symposium. The gathering shed light on where efficiency is leading us, and what the future of transportation will look like.
See some of the steps Ford is taking to shape the future of transportation under the leadership of mobility manager Erica Kampfl.
The Biggest Barrier to 21st Century Efficiency? 19th Century Streets and 20th Century Process
In world where Amazon has changed the way we shop, OKCupid’s algorithms are changing how we find romance, and Uber is reinventing taxi service, and Chariot changing shuttle service, efficiency is the goal. But how do we overcome the barriers to efficiency?
Consider Amazon. Urban deliveries can cause huge headaches. Most city streets (19th century) aren’t designed for UPS’s process (20th century) or how we use Amazon (21st century). So a delivery truck blocks traffic while the driver tries to find someone to sign for the package. And I, no doubt, am sitting in an Uber behind that truck texting my friends that I’ll be late.
Ford’s Goal: To Be the Transportation Operating System of the Future
That is the goal, says Jim Hackett, Ford’s new CEO who is leading the company and its partners to understand how efficiencies of global transportation grids will shape our future and how Ford can help drive those efficiencies.
One hugely inefficient system is our streets. They can be a barrier to people, difficult for deliveries and not all that efficient for cars.
Janette Sadik-Kahn, who as New York City’s transportation commissioner led the reshaping of NYC’s streets, talked about how the Bloomberg administration turned busy boulevards into pocket parks, pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, reducing the number of traffic deaths and fueling economic growth for businesses in these corridors— up to 50% in some cases.
New York’s goal was to reduce pedestrian injuries and create green space. The unintended consequence—and what they learned—were “curbside management” and “last mile” transportation solutions.
What the Heck is Last Mile Transportation?
Most of the traffic clogging city streets are people and deliveries making the last mile of the journey, whether it’s from the train station to the office, the warehouse to the customer, or home to school. The 20th century solution to this has been to own a car, hail a taxi or load deliveries onto a truck and have it make many stops in the same neighborhood.
But in the 21st century, we won’t see fleets of cabs clogging our streets, says Ali Vahabzadeh, founder of Chariot. That’s the commuter shuttle service Ford bought last year. Chariot designs its routes based on where riders need to go by knowing its users’ travel habits. This way, shuttles can be much more efficient and schedules more predictable.
We also don’t need large trucks and warehouses to deliver goods, says Daphne Carmeli, founder of Deliv. This company crowdsources delivery service so that gadget you ordered can hitch a ride with someone who is already headed your way.
Who Thinks This Stuff Up?
“The Jetsons” TV show envisioned video phones. “Lost in Space” told of robots and artificial intelligence. “Star Trek” imagined tasers, needle-less injections and a multicultural society. All of those things now are reality.
Ford wants to harness that visionary thinking, so Jim has partnered with Alex McDowell, film production designer and founder of the University of Southern California’s World Building Institute. In his job designing cities for the screen, Alex envisioned systems and models where movies like “Minority Report” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” played out. Now he’s putting that vision to work in building new models for the future of cities.
Efficiency + Vision = Picture of the Future
Ford is increasingly partnering with people like Alex. It’s also increasing its presence in Silicon Valley, where many of the lofty ideas are turned into reality.
That is great news for those of us who are making that last mile (or few miles) journey—from LAX to the hotel, or from the subway to the office or to meet friends for dinner. Because shouldn’t that space we cross be pleasant and our transportation options efficient, not clogged with wasteful traffic?
Disclosure: I was Ford’s guest for the City of Tomorrow Symposium. Travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions expressed are my own.