How to improve community mobility in a smart city through public-private partnerships

By Derek Fretheim

Part of the smart cities movement includes managing how people travel and use the transportation network, as well as how cities collect data from vehicles and group travel patterns for better land use and transportation policy decision making.

The smart cities movement is no small undertaking when you consider the complexity of roadway use, people’s travels and vehicle data. Areas such as Los Angeles or New York could generate billions of data points every single day. So how do cities equip themselves and prepare for managing this huge data set?

One strategy gaining momentum is to work with the private sector through public-private partnerships. A public-private partnership is an initiative where public agencies collaborate with the private sector to deliver a set of solutions and/or services. Cities have traditionally looked at these arrangements solely as helping to facilitate real estate development. In the case of building a new transit hub, a city may own the land, but they may not have the capital to build on it. So they’ve looked to partner with commercial developers to obtain the needed investment for building out the asset. For cities, these partnerships have typically been restricted to real estate joint ventures. 

Today, cities are seeking public-private partnerships as a way to expedite and acquire the needed technology tools and support required to achieve their smart city initiatives. There are key foundational elements cities should adopt within their strategy. Here are some suggestions city leaders should consider:

  • Define the technology framework - create a flexible technology platform that can grow and expand over time.

  • Resist the proprietary software trap - look to use software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions as a way to minimize backing into a corner. SaaS models will be less costly up front and won’t pigeonhole your city into long service and maintenance contracts.

  • Leverage the RFI/RFQ process - Cities have the built in ability to search for solutions via the request for information and request for qualifications process. This mechanism allows cities to gauge providers, technology and teams that are best qualified to meet a city’s needs.

  • Partner selection - Competition is healthy and price isn’t always indicative of the best provider. Avoid low-bid selections because the smartest partner with the best solution isn’t always the lowest bidder.

  • Prepare your community and staff - Create a clear vision, strategy and objectives within your plan and clearly communicate the cost benefit analysis for creating public private partnership.

  • Communicate your status - Be open about the investments being made and the partnerships created. Provide status reports that are easily understood and explain out the benefits. Transparency allows for greater awareness and awareness means better buy in by the community.

Cities who have clear defined smart city plans and strategies and embrace public private partnerships are better positioned to meet the growing community needs. Being proactive and inviting unsolicited offers from the private sector provides the ability to present technology solutions. Without private partnerships, cities may find themselves underfunded to meet their objectives.


Derek Fretheim is the director of business development at moovel Group, a Daimler Mobility Services company and the president of technology consulting company Acire. He has worked with government, non-profits and the private sector since 1990. 



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