By Dmitri Shiry, Deloitte

In 2017, Pittsburgh was one of the five finalists in the Federal Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. And while Columbus ended up taking home the top prize (a $40 million grant), there are a few things Pittsburgh can learn from Columbus to help move the needle to becoming a smarter city.

But where to start? For Pittsburgh, transportation is expected to play a key role in the city’s long-term achievements.

Advancing autonomous vehicles

With companies like Uber and Argo AI planting roots in Pittsburgh, autonomous vehicles have become one of the biggest driving forces in making the city “smart,” with talent from the region’s schools helping to fuel the future of connected vehicles.

Although safety has been a top concern for many consumers around the world (causing support for autonomous vehicles to hit a bit of a plateau), most Pittsburgh-based autonomous vehicle companies continue to focus on improvements to make safety their top priority.

And while it could still be years before autonomous vehicles are fully commercialized, Pittsburgh’s tech companies still believe that autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future of mobility.

Hitting pause on personal vehicles

As more and more people flock to urban areas, finding ways to reduce congestion and increase the use of public transportation could continue to be a challenge. While cities like Pittsburgh heavily rely on personal vehicles, local governments around the country are placing more emphasis on ways to require the use of public transportation.

Creating convenient and affordable insights from the beginning to the end of a journey (bike-sharing, dynamic shuttles that adjust routes based on demand, and ride-hailing) can help reduce reliance on personally owned vehicles.

Regardless of the specific strategies used to help modernize mobility and optimize public infrastructure, many expect a single digital platform to be a critical part of the equation, helping to connect data related to physical infrastructure, modes of transport, and transportation service providers.

Going back to the basics

But even as nearly every aspect of our lives becomes increasingly digital, mobility at its core remains grounded in the physical world. For transportation officials, that means there’s no substitute for ensuring that physical infrastructure and assets work (e.g., roads and bridges are maintained and safe, that buses, trains, subways and other forms of mass transit are clean and reliable, and that traffic lights function).

That said, it’s easy to become enamored with the array of emerging mobility technologies entering the market. Leaders can benefit from taking a deliberate and calibrated approach with respect to embracing the latest technologies while being laser focused on getting the fundamentals right. Said another way, we can’t overlook the basics.

Given the speed of change and technological trends, any city has the opportunity to remake its mobility landscape over the next 5-10 years. With the many business, academic, civic and governmental assets that we can leverage within our region, could Pittsburgh become the next leading smart city?

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