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Colorado nonprofit partners with city on mobility

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Austin leaders announced a partnership Monday morning between the city and Colorado-based nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute to develop “innovative mobility solutions” to the transportation woes that frustrate many Austinites.

Jeruld Weiland, managing director of RMI’s Mobility Transportation program, told those packed into the City Hall atrium that the initiative will involve a multifaceted approach to mobility enhancements that includes integrated smartphone apps and payment systems, vehicle electrification, traffic data analysis and more.

“With this three- to five-year time frame, we can begin to see what we would call a ‘holistic system’ starting to come together,” said Weiland. “Even at that point, it’s 10 to 15 years for this transformation to take place.”

According to a city of Austin press release, the partnership is intended to address issues related to “congestion, costs, commuting, safety and the environment.”

RMI, Weiland said, plans to work with public organizations, including the University of Texas at Austin and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to enhance existing relationships with software developers such as RideScout and to partner with other firms.

Weiland even went so far as to suggest the possibility of getting involved with Google, which is currently testing its self-driving cars on Central Austin roads.

Mayor Steve Adler said that he believes the partnership “may very well be transformative.”

City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the Council Mobility Committee, provided some examples of the kinds of goals the partnership will take on.

“Strategies like streamlining transit information so that people can have information at their fingertips and be able to pay for services when they’re trying to figure out how to get somewhere, so that we can have more electric vehicles and electric fleets, so that we can get ready for self-driving vehicles, so that we can revamp our Land Development Code to be ready for the future and, most importantly, (so that) we can transform the way we think about transportation and mobility as a community,” Kitchen said.

City Manager Marc Ott said the city’s contributions to the partnership will be “in-kind” and did not provide a cost estimate. “I suppose that’s calculable along the way as we invest staff time and, you know, provide facilities, those kinds of things, but I think it’s just in-kind support,” he explained.

Weiland said that RMI plans to have six to eight staff members involved in the initiative.

The partnership is the result of a nationwide search by RMI. The nonprofit is also embarking on a similar partnership with Denver.

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