Recently I had the privilege of moderating a panel on the future of transportation at Synapse Summit 2019
. Together with Kasra Moshkani
, Director and General Manager of Uber; Bob O'Malley
, VP of Government Affairs at Brightline; Janet Sherberger
, VP of Communications at the Tampa International Airport; and Aivers Lode
, CEO of IT Capital, we discussed the dynamics of the transportation industry with an eye on the future.
It was a very timely discussion. Innovation in transportation technology is having an outsized impact on economic and social development in Florida, and in markets across the globe. A recent economic study found that, in Florida alone, Uber is responsible for $1B in GDP and net economic impact of $87M annually
. This is an incredible impact for a company that is still growing rapidly! It also does not even factor in the social benefits that come with a ridesharing platform.
At the same time, mature markets like the passenger rail industry continue to see technological and infrastructural advancements of all sorts. Companies like Brightline - who recently announced a partnership with Virgin
and will soon operate under a new name, Virgin Trains USA - are leaders here. The inter-city passenger rail company recently confirmed a light-rail train line
connecting Orlando to South Florida, a project that will bring in an estimated 10,000 annual jobs during construction and make it possible for passengers to travel from downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale in 30 minutes. These types of sustaining technology developments create new business opportunities for organizations within transportation industries, and across the economy more generally, through new business partnerships, employment opportunities, and revenue generated from increased passenger traffic flows.
But these promising developments are more the exception than the norm. The question on my mind is: what can we learn from these promising innovations and how can we nurture similar types of projects across the state, in all the different value networks connected through transportation? In reflecting on the discussions from the panelists and the feedback from the summit, I saw three action items for Florida that could be game-changers for its transportation future: Hubs and Connectivity
From Virgin Trains USA coming, to Uber's pool concept, to an expanding airport and the potential for future air taxi's, there were many exciting plans mentioned by the participants. All the ideas have incredible value in their own right, but to maximize the collective value of these innovations we need to integrate them through designated hubs of connectivity. A collection of transportation networks criss-crossing each other without ever coming together would be a failure of our infrastructural potential here in Florida because transportation woes would persist in spite of new funding opportunities.
What we need to do is strategically create passenger transportation hubs where all these modes of transportation can come together. The way in which Uber integrates with the Tampa Airport today is a great example of this - it's a solution that works for multiple parties and should be replicated wherever possible.
The same goes for the proposed Virgin Trains partnership with the Tampa Airport and their proposed plans to extend over to theme parks in Orlando. As Bob O'Malley said at the Summit, "On our way to Tampa we will likely have a station somewhere around theme parks in Orlando and we think that's going to be a great thing for our partnership with the Tampa airport." Give people the option of training to the airport and you make it easier and more convenient to travel by air. That's a win for customers and every business involved in the value networks surrounding the airport.
This type of integrated thinking and planning is much needed! But it takes the involvement of business, government, and community officials thinking together. Let's get together now and ensure those discussions are happening! Not only is it wise, but the economic impact could be substantial for all participants. Freight Opportunities
Freight innovation is developing at an astounding pace, thanks in part to technological innovations like the internet of things (IoT), AI-powered machine learning capacities, and blockchain. But these game-changing technologies can only help optimize operations in a freight industry that still very much depends on location. Coastal states represent ideal zones for freight and logistics innovation, mostly because of their ports. Florida, for one, sees a high volume of goods pass by its shores - coming from Asia and across the East - through the Panama Canal. As we know, the incremental growth in the size of container ships means the Canal will soon be expanded, and more goods will start passing through. This represents a great opportunity for the state of Florida to capture some of this increased cargo - but a lot of research, planning and implementation is needed now in order to take advantage of this great opportunity when it comes. For example, what if instead of shipping goods up the East Coast, shipping companies could dock in Florida and send cargo up the coast or inland via rail or flight transport.
I think Florida's best kept secret is it's ports, air travel and above ground logistics networks which, if properly connected, represent a vast capacity for moving goods efficiently. The capacity is there, whether in the form of technology or space. What's missing is the velocity. We tend to forget that cargo holds on passenger planes in the US are mostly empty when traveling. Much has to be done to think through the implementation of moving freight, but this is excess capacity already moving between city pairs multiple times a day that is going unused! We need to look at how new technological capacity can help interconnect existing capacity in new and strategic ways, to the benefit of everyone. Connecting ports, airports, railheads, with distribution and freight logistics capability is something that typically develops over time. It's time to start thinking, planning, and learning how to better utilize corridors that could also have significant traffic benefits. Digital Mapping
Physical infrastructure is one thing - and actually, on this front Florida is doing quite well. But what we need in tandem is a comprehensive digital mapping project overlaying the physical terrain. Digitally mapping the entire state can reduce inefficiencies in key transportation metrics and increase opportunities for more connectivity - opportunities that were previously impossible to comprehend. States that can render digital insight actionable will be on the cutting edge of logistics and transit developments, and there is no reason why Florida cannot lead the charge here.
Some might argue that Florida is already investing in this project. But I'm not just talking about the installation of digital traffic lights
. I'm talking about the kind of work being done in Alphabets Sidewalk Labs - that is, finding ways to harness the capacity of technology available to us to make transportation easier and faster for everyone. We need to uncover this potential and start innovating now! Let's create a digital infrastructure plan at the statewide level to take advantage of all the advances and coming opportunities (i.e connected cars, train networks, etc) using the best technological advances.
The Importance of an Ecosystem
While these action items are centered on Florida, they apply to the wider transportation industry across the country. With the rate of change we are seeing in core areas of transportation - in digitization, logistics software, light rail train infrastructure and the like - the transit and trade landscape is going to look very different five years from now. Regions that can come together to create sustainable startup ecosystems will be the ones to lead the change, because it's in these ecosystems that disruptive companies with innovative solutions develop and mature.
Ultimately, the onus falls on the business community to invest the time and resources required to build the connections, create the resources, and, most importantly, support the bold visionaries who want to solve the most vexing transportation problems we face today.
Morgan Hill acts as a strategic alley in this capacity. We are a team of serial entrepreneurs and investors who know what it takes to succeed - with an operating team
that can both deliver and execute on the strategy, and a proven methodology born out of decades of experience. As a trusted business partner, we provide clients with access to the right people, with the right skills, at the right time so companies can confidently fill gaps, make informed decisions, and grow - all without the drama. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dwayne has spent 15+ years as an executive with IBM Global Services in consulting, strategy, branding and technical services. Over his career, Dwayne has made pivotal contributions igniting growth, revenue, and profitability in a broad range of international public and private companies and entrepreneurial ventures. Whether it's scale to market or managing a company with $2.5B revenue and a workforce of 15,000, Dwayne has developed a unique ability to rally teams behind a common vision, mission, and strategy to generate extraordinary results.