San Francisco is among seven cities in the U.S. that could receive a federal grant to become the nation’s first to incorporate self-driving cars and other technological efforts into its transportation network.
Such a possibility drew an unusual guest to the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, over the weekend — Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, where he shared the potential future of The City’s transit system that could include more technology.
A $50 million transportation grant, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, could
bring those ideas to reality if awarded to The City.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx hosted a roundtable discussion called “Beyond Traffic: The Emergence of a Connected City” at South by Southwest on Sunday, flanked by representatives of the seven city finalists.
“The Smart City challenge has driven our cities to think ahead of the curve,” Reiskin said in a statement. “This support and recognition from the U.S. Department of Transportation is an honor for San Francisco.”
Now San Francisco must prove it has the best plan for creating a “smart” interactive transit network, utilizing public-private partnerships, and reducing greenhouse gases in the country in order to win the grant.
The $50 million The City might win from the federal government is intended to help the winner “become the country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies,” including self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors into their transportation network, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The remaining finalists also include Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh, Penn.; and Portland, Ore.
Last year, the SFMTA formed a new entity to conceive of future transit policy: The Office of Innovation, headed by staffer Timothy Papandreou.
The SFMTA said it was this office’s work which prepared them for the “Smart City” competition.
For instance, the office is considering potential frameworks for autonomous vehicle regulations in San Francisco.
Papandreou previously confirmed some of the 11 companies with autonomous vehicles are testing in San Francisco right now. Though Google’s small test car hasn’t come into San Francisco yet, he said, a Lexus autonomous car has rolled out on The City’s streets.
That’s just the start, though.
“A whole bunch of companies don’t exist that will be here in the coming years,” he recently told the San Francisco Examiner.
More future technology is also in the works, according to the SFMTA, including networking capability between self-driving cars, and new ways of linking so-called “shared” transit with public transit.
The seven city finalists will receive a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to further develop their proposals.
This second phase of the contest will herald a change in criteria, with the winning city selected based on its ability to “think big, and provide a detailed roadmap on how they will integrate innovative technologies to prototype the future of transportation in their city,” according to federal officials.
The winner of the challenge will be announced in June.