Progress to electrification:
Introduced 200 electric vehicles, including buses, out of a target of 300.
A public exhibit space:
The Smart Columbus Experience Center opened earlier this year, showcasing the city's various smart initiatives.
The city plans to roll out more initiatives in 2019, including connecting expectant mothers with ride-hailing.
Two years on from winning the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) inaugural Smart City Challenge, Columbus, OH is rolling out new programs as its work through Smart Columbus becomes more public-facing.
Having spent the first year of its four-year smart city program working behind the scenes and conducting research, 2018 has been the year of introducing new city features and initiatives, including transit updates and efforts to battle climate change.
"In general, 2018 has been more exciting than any year to date since winning, which is a good thing. That means forward progress," Smart Columbus Director Jordan Davis told Smart Cities Dive.
Perhaps the biggest area of progress this year has been in the city’s increased reliance on electric vehicles (EVs), including in its bus fleet and other government vehicles. That ramped up in early September, as the city celebrated National Drive Electric Week by announcing it is more than halfway to its goal of 300 EVs in public fleets by 2020. Meanwhile, Davis said, adoption of EVs citywide is up 65% from 2017.
"Deploying these 93 vehicles in the city’s fleet is another step forward in our Smart City commitment to creating a transportation ecosystem that is more sustainable and future-forward," Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement at the time.
On the transit side, Columbus has welcomed dockless bikes and scooters with conditions, and also added bus rapid transit (BRT) through the heart of downtown on one of the busiest routes operated by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA).
In addition to adding BRT, COTA collaborated with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the city’s special improvement district on C-pass, which offers all 45,000 employees who work downtown free bus travel.
And a notable program that was added after the city tweaked how it would spend grant money is assistance with transportation for prenatal doctor visits for expectant mothers on Medicaid. A request for proposals (RFP) went out in October.
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Beyond transportation, officials hailed the launch of the Smart Columbus Operating System, a cloud-based open integrated data exchange that will be built out over the next two years. App developers and entrepreneurs now have the chance to use it, with a view to designing ways to make use of the data being crunched for more solutions.
"If you think about one of the core principles of designing a smart city being the integrated, holistic approach to data, the Smart Columbus Operating System is our platform to do just that," Brandi Braun, Columbus’ deputy innovation officer, told Smart Cities Dive.
And that data could be put to great use in another project on tap: an integrated travel and transportation app to help people get around Columbus. As well as providing information on various modes of travel, Braun said it will also include a common payment system through the app.
Meanwhile, residents and visitors alike can experience some of the new initiatives and innovations coming to the city at the Smart Columbus Experience Center, which opened to the public in late June.
The center allows visitors to explore new transportation options, including autonomous vehicles (AVs) and EVs, as well as technology demonstrations. It will also serve as a place for Columbus to share lessons and best practices with other cities and technology leaders.
Davis said the center should also appeal to those looking to buy an EV for themselves. The center has six models on loan that people can test drive, while also learning more about the technology.
"Not everyone in Columbus is familiar with an EV,” Davis said. “They might not know anybody in their circle of friends or family that's ever owned one, they may have never been in one themselves…It's a no-pressure, no sales education-only environment that we hope will make people very comfortable to consider this technology as a real option in their lives.”
While Davis and Braun said that 2018 has been a successful year as Columbus looks to get smarter, it is just the beginning. Next year, they said, the city hopes to have even more partners in their efforts and have rolled out various new initiatives for wider public consumption.
“[But] probably most important is a vision for what's next,” Davis said. “What's beyond the grants for Columbus? We know and are very committed to smart cities in the long-term, what's our next ambition? I hope we'll be talking about that come the end of 2019 into 2020, which will be a very important year for us.”