Su$tainable Mobility, Volume 3
This newsletter aims to separate the signal from the noise for making money in all things sustainable transportation: Electrification, mode shift, active and public transit, and mobility aggregation, across both people and goods movement.
Feedback is always welcome: feel free to DM me on Twitter or send an email with your thoughts on what else you might like to see as content.
This week’s deep dive (at the bottom) is on two competing approaches to how we will manage the blight of parking in cities.
Disclaimer: This newsletter represents my own thoughts and not those of any employer. I will always disclose when I have a financial relationship with a company cited.
QUICK HITS: Fast takes on notable news from last week
Electronics are on course to make up 50% of the cost of a car.
The era of mechanical engineers leading the automotive industry is coming to a very uneasy end. It’s primarily a software game these days.
Amazon’s drone delivery program is reportedly suffering.
Mass e-commerce delivery by drone is far from ready for Prime time, or even necessarily a worthwhile goal. But individual use cases are surely compelling (e.g., delivering medical supplies in remote areas).
The US infrastructure bill is getting closer.
The bill is great news for EVs. Other parts of sustainable mobility may have to come later.
White House gets Detroit 3 buy-in for 40%-50% plug-in sales by 2030.
This is feasible and in line with the vehicle investment plans of the Detroit players. The devil is in the details for how we ultimately end up getting there, including charging infrastructure and incentives.
Moody’s to buy RMS, a climate change risk modeler.
While the cost of EVs, renewables, and energy storage continues to fall, the costs associated with legacy polluting businesses will rise. The climate impacts of heavily polluting industries will get priced into their insurance and banking options, resulting in a vicious cycle of higher costs and smaller revenue bases. See here for a great example.
VW’s CEO blasts EV charging network Ionity, which VW partially owns.
Tesla’s proprietary charging network was a head-scratcher for legacy car manufacturers, who couldn’t figure out what a charging network had to do with them. Now they understand.
NYC is clamping down on food delivery platforms like DoorDash and UberEats.
We’re far from having an economically and environmentally sustainable model for the delivery company, the restaurant, and their job holders, including in the dark kitchen space.
STARTUP WATCH: Sustainable mobility startups (generally pre-seed or seed) to keep an eye on
Eterna Green Energy (New York, USA) Forest wood waste converted into ethanol-free gasoline
CM1 (Germany): IoT plus software to help cities avoid traffic jams
Mooevo (Spain): Micro-mobility quadricycle for goods transport and for people using wheelchairs
TShell Motors (India): a 3-wheeled EV, not all that dissimilar from ElectraMeccanica
DEEP DIVE: How to manage the blight of urban parking
It’s hard to think about parking without acknowledging that we all stand on the shoulders of legendary economist and urban planner Donald Shoup, including his 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. Shoup has been central to our understanding that “free parking” is only possible by externalizing very expensive, real costs on our cities in the form of pollution, congestion, social inequity, and more. This subsidization creates a misaligned market, with artificially high levels of private car usage and artificially low levels of shared, active, and mass transit.
Pricing private car ownership at its true cost in our cities might be one of the most effective things we can do to encourage mode shift away from single-occupant vehicles, creating a significantly larger, and more investable, market for shared, active, and mass transit.
In terms of how we end up getting there, there are two approaches in the space.
The first approach is a tabula rasa, based on the premise that we’ve spent a century redesigning our cities around cars and that the best way to move forward is via completely new developments. Culdesac, for example, which calls itself the world’s first post-car real estate developer, is building a 1,000-person neighborhood called Culdesac Tempe. Culdesac has already raised $10M from Khosla Ventures, Initialized Capital, Zigg Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Y Combinator. There will be no parking spaces for the 1,000 residents, and they will be contractually forbidden to park a car on-site or on nearby streets.
The second approach is incrementalist, acknowledging that our existing cities aren’t going anywhere and that few people have the privilege of picking up and moving to an entirely new post-car real estate development.
It’s easy to lose sight of how resilient cities are and how quickly they can change when we apply the right pressure. Paris is over 2,000 years old and only began its experiment with the car a century ago. From being a traffic-choked city a decade ago, Paris is quickly pivoting towards a car-light city thanks to new policies, including those spearheaded by Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Several incrementalist policy moves can more accurately price the true cost of private car usage in cities:
End parking minimums and institute parking maximums.
Eliminate requirements for residential buildings to have off-street parking.
Reduce the supply of on-street parking in favor of parklets, bike-sharing docks, outdoor dining, and other community amenities (just look at what Barcelona has done since the beginning of the pandemic).
Charge real, dynamically-priced rates for on-street parking, using revenues generated to improve amenities on that street (sorry to the George Costanzas of the world who believe free or cheap on-street parking is a birthright).
End the concept of free on-site parking at work as an employment benefit.
Such policy changes will, collectively and over time, create huge investment opportunities in public, shared, and active transit. As an example: Vancouver has been one of the more progressive cities in North America on eliminating parking minimums. Is it any surprise that this is the kind of business opportunity that is coming out of Vancouver?