Along for the Ride #156
Urban mobility as climate tech: a call to action
Hi mobility folks,
Thank you to the great Sarah Barnes for inviting me to share my thoughts and recent work with you this week.
I’ve spent the last ten years thinking about the future of cities—from housing, to climate, to quality of life, and—in the last few years in particular, sustainable mobility. I’ve led one of the world’s largest micromobility systems (Citi Bike for Lyft) including our $100M expansion and launch of new products, co-led Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, edited Alain Bertaud’s masterwork on cities “Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities,” launched new urban mobility startups for large corporates with BCG’s Digital Ventures, consulted for large urban philanthropy networks like Bloomberg Philanthropies to reshape their Mayors Challenge and cities like Mexico City to revise zoning regulations, and mentored and advised numerous early-stage mobility startups.
Through all of this—and while observing the enormous amount of money now pouring into climate funds—I’ve seen more than half of climate-focused investments in 2021 go towards a “better car” (EVs, autonomous EVs, components of EVs, etc.).
The problem is that a “better car” is not the answer; big EVs don’t do enough to solve transportation-related emissions and certainly don’t reduce congestion.
I want to help address this imbalance. As an advocate/operator/advisor for urban mobility, I want to do MORE to change the ways that investment $$$ are allocated, to ensure that 10 years from now we have better, cleaner mobility options for cities, people, and the planet. So, I’ve taken on a few roles (in addition to my day job) as an investment scout and advisor.
I lay out the case and opportunities below, and I’d love to meet you if (1) you’re an urban mobility startup at the pre-seed, seed, or Series A stage looking for investment, or (2) you’re at a venture fund that wants to do more in this space.
Download a full intro slide deck here, and see a preview below for AFTR readers.
The case for investing in urban mobility to improve cities
First, for all my friends in Silicon Valley who question whether the future will be an urban one… cities are thriving despite COVID and early refrains that “cities are dead.” In Manhattan, median rents increased 25% from 2021 to 2022, reaching a new all-time high. We’ve also lived in a “majority urban” world since 2007, when the number of people living in cities surpassed 50% - and are projected to hit more than 70% by 2050.
In parallel, over the last 50 years, climate emissions have more than doubled globally, and we’re seeing the consequences: extreme weather disasters (from drought to extreme temperatures) have increased 5X over the same period.
But why is urban mobility specifically important to solve for? Transportation remains the largest source of emissions in the U.S., and the fastest growing source of emissions globally (increasing more than 70% since 1990, while emissions from many other sectors declined over the same period). And it’s not just about climate change; the way we currently get from point A to point B is hurting economic productivity. Congestion costs cities like NYC nearly $34B in lost wages annually, and 48% of car trips in the most congested cities are less than 3 miles, a trip length that could be served much more efficiently. And, those short trips are likely to only increase with COVID-related changes to work, when many folks aren’t commuting as frequently.
A “better individually-owned car” won’t save us. The same car size with an electric battery doesn’t solve urban congestion (favorite illustrations here and here), and big EVs can only reduce emissions from a standard gas-powered car by 50% (compared to an ebike at 92%). And, there are a lot of dependencies: (1) how “clean” the grid is, and (2) grid capacity. It’s estimated that upgrading the grid in the U.S. to support EVs will cost $125B; currently $5B is dedicated to this work in the U.S.’s largest infrastructure bill in decades.
What can “save” our cities and planet? A range of innovative urban mobility solutions across infrastructure and products, for people, businesses, and government, and from micromobility to transit.
There are opportunities to do MORE to invest across the “urban mobility as climate tech” stack
Cities are complex and layered, and any approach to investing in urban mobility needs to account for that complexity. I’ve developed a “urban mobility as climate tech” stack (MORE), and am looking forward to feedback and iteration.
“Urban mobility as climate tech” has four core components:
What is needed to enable deep insights into - and measurement of - congestion, emissions, and other key areas
How do we rebuild faster, more efficient infrastructure - or adapt what we already have - to allow for better urban mobility, from streets to electrification
What are the compelling products and services that we can offer across personal mobility, delivery, and mass transit that make it a no brainer for people to take more sustainable modes rather than cars
Cities are not meta-verses. They’re real places that constantly change, or even, break. So how do we maintain all of these mobility offerings
I have a few pages on each part of this stack in the full intro deck here, for anyone who would like to dive a bit further.
How to get in touch
Please reach out via LinkedIn, Twitter, or the email in the deck. I’d love to meet in particular if (1) you’re an urban mobility startup at the pre-seed, seed, or Series A stage looking for investment, or (2) you’re at a venture fund that wants to do more in this space.
Thanks again Sarah for having me as a guest writer for this great newsletter! I’m an avid weekly reader, and am excited for all the great work this community can do over the coming years to help improve our cities, our streets, and our planet.
Wooo! We love guest editions. If you would like to contribute to AFTR with a guest contribution please read up on the process here. It’s incredibly fun for me (and I hope the contributors too!). I am looking for guest contributors through to the end of the year. If you think to yourself, “oh that sounds cool but I’m not sure what I’d write about, or I don’t have the ~knowledge, insight, reputation~ to write in a newsletter,” then I promise you this opportunity is for you.
We spend too much time talking ourselves out of opportunities and I am always looking to lower barriers to participating through guest contributions that are paid. I especially want to encourage folks from more diverse backgrounds (race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, ability, and more) to participate. We only get to better transport systems with a greater diversity of perspectives being shared, so please consider reaching out and making my day!
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