Podcar City Conferences Aim to Change Future Transportation For the Better

Jennifer van der Kleut

As the 11th annual iteration of the Podcar City conference gets ready to kick off November 8th in Las Vegas, organizer Christer Lindstrom says he is feeling encouraged by how much support for the event and the ideology it stands for has grown over the past decade.

Concerned about growing traffic and congestion in cities all over the world, Lindstrom and others got together in the early 2000s and started a think-tank of sorts to discuss ideas for more efficient and sustainable forms of public transportation.

“We wanted to come up with ideas for how to get people around in better, safer, faster ways,” Lindstrom explains.

The International Institute of Sustainable Transportation (INIST) and its annual Podcar City conference came out of that think tank.

The goal of the annual Podcar City conferences is getting stakeholders from four key areas–academia, cities/governments, and technology and planning consultants and specialists–to the table together to discover ways of working together to improve urban landscapes for the future.

For more than a decade now, Podcar City has been doing just that–bringing together people from universities, tech companies, planning departments, civil engineers and architects, as well as consultants and specialists, to collectively look toward the future and design cities that feature more efficient transportation, largely based around the idea of the “podcar.”

Lindstrom and his fellow think-tankers were the first to coin the phrase “podcar” back in the early 2000s. It refers to electric, self-driving, on-demand transportation that can shuttle people around cities and metropolitan areas quickly and efficiently, largely eliminating the need for so many parking garages, and dramatically reducing traffic, congestion and pollution.

For many, that may conjure up images of summoning a small, driverless Uber or Lyft car to pick you up in the morning, drop you off in front of your office, and then take you home at the end of the day. But Lindstrom says, it’s not all about self-driving cars.

“Self-driving cars can’t solve all problems, we need sustainable public transportation as well,” he says.

The advent of new forms of public transportation and on-demand podcars would mean cities and urban landscapes that look dramatically different in the future. That is what the annual Podcar City conferences want to examine, and inspire.

A new addition to the Podcar City itinerary last year, which will be making an appearance again in 2017, is the Urban International Design Conference (UIDC), in which cities look toward the future and how the “podcar” ideology of sustainable transportation would work and change their cities for the better. Cities from around the world are encouraged to form groups of university students and faculty, planners and government officials, and technology specialists to create a presentation of how this technology might work in their city, and how their city might look in the future based on these dramatic changes.

Their design is shared via a kind of virtual reality simulation on a computer in which the user can virtually move around the city by using transportation ideas of the future.

“It’s a kind of planning exercise of how shared-use automation would look like in your city,” says Matthew Lesh, a former mobility expert for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a strategic advisor to Coast Automation, one of the sponsors of this year’s Podcar City conference.

“Each competing city designs a virtual reality simulation of what their city would look like in the future with the introduction of podcar technology –  so it functions kind of like a computer game, in which you can walk and move about the city in the future,” Lindstrom explains.

This year, six cities hailing from the U.S., Australia and Sweden will take part in the UIDC. Lindstrom already says support for the contest has been so great, they are planning to invite 12 cities to take part in 2018.

Much the same, Podcar City conferences themselves are growing exponentially every year, Lindstrom says. Since the beginning, the conferences have alternated years in the U.S. and Europe, but Lindstrom said this week that demand is growing so strong that they may start adding smaller conferences in additional cities each year.

The difference Podcar City is making in the world’s outlook for the future is not difficult to see, both Lesh and Lindstrom have said.

“It’s definitely expanding the audience that’s talking about advanced public transportation,” Lesh said. “It’s no longer just technology providers talking about it. So many times tech providers are the ones running the show – but this annual event allows them to do what they do, but also work together with planners and architects and the people who use the system, and gets everyone to listen to each other.”

“[The event] has contributed a better understanding of what is possible, and kicked off a series of studies in cities around the world,” he added.

“This is something that takes time. Public transportation doesn’t change overnight. But definitely, in the last one or two years, things have started to change dramatically,” said Lindstrom. “People are starting more businesses, more consulting work, and a lot of cities are looking into this more deeply, and talking to each other about it.”

Lindstrom said he is definitely encouraged by the formation of organizations like KOMPASS, a league of cities in Sweden that has joined together to work toward planning sustainable transportation for the future, as well as a group of five cities in California he has heard about that are combining resources and working together in a similar way.

“It’s really growing,” he said.

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“2017 Podcar City and Advanced Transit Conference: Smart City, Smart Transit, Smart Energy” takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada from Nov. 8 to 10, 2017.

Visit our Events page for more information.

You can also visit the official event website.

Images courtesy of Podcar City.

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