By Chelsea McCullough, Executive Director, Texans for Economic Progress
On February 7, I had the pleasure of teaming with HATCH Pitch and Osha Liang to host 20 leaders in tech and transportation in our state’s largest metro area – Houston. We gathered with one goal in mind – to talk about the future of mobility, technology, regulatory environments and how these elements are evolving.
The right people were in the room and represented a diverse cross section across the public and private sectors. Joseph Kopser, CEO & Founder of RideScout, led the conversation that included City of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez and representatives from Zip Car, Park It, Royal Dutch Shell, The Wave, Nuride, Houston Bikeshare, RedHouse Associates, January Advisors, Sentinal Trust Company, The Houston Technology Center, Houston Strategies, Marketing Elements, Xconomy and the Houston Start Up Digest.
Transportation is one of those issues that cuts right across public and private sectors. As populations surge in our state’s large urban areas, traffic and mobility become top priority for consumers and citizens. Technology has an important role to play in addressing the solutions and progress requires cooperation on all sides – from corporate executives to entrepreneurs, from tech coalitions to the city council.
So what was the key take away from the event? Houston is really leading the way with regards to collaboration between innovators in the transportation space and the city’s elected leadership. This was not a one-sided conversation – it was a spirited discussion and not everyone agreed with each other’s perspectives. But there was absolutely a willingness to listen and start a constructive dialogue about how each entity plays a part in creating solutions. Conversations like the ones we are having are critical; not just because of the economic opportunities that are at stake, but because consumers have not and should not have to wait for public policy to catch up with where they are.
Lauren Barrash, Founder and President of The Wave, told a story of how she formed her “jitney” company in the midst of archaic regulatory constraints including requiring a permit located at a building that no longer existed. She highlighted that instead of hiding behind bureaucratic red tape, City Councilman Ed Gonzalez and staff at the City of Houston partnered with her to update the policies and requirements so that she could receive the required protections and launch her business. It wasn’t easy and there were lots of lessons learned (and still learning) but the open dialogue and willingness to create a progressive approach is the ultimate goal for all involved.
There is a lot to be hopeful about where tech and policy is concerned. TEP has been closely following the move to start all-broadband beta testing trials as carriers move to modernize the nation’s broadband networks on which our tech economy depends. Much like a highway or high-speed rail line, it makes less sense to keep investing in antiquated non-broadband systems that require significant resources to maintain, while delivering limited functionality. Consumers have spoken, and the marketplace demands that infrastructure improve and provide better, faster options. The private sector is ready to invest and create innovative solutions. When the public sector agrees to collaborate with care and the appropriate amount of caution, everyone wins. The FCC’s broadband beta test approach is exactly right and positions the US to continue to lead in technology expansion.
I continue to be impressed by Houston’s professional community. They are not content to rest on the major industries such as energy and healthcare that have defined our state’s economy, and have instead embraced the modern “app economy” to usher in a new age of even greater prosperity. Instead of accepting the fate of being named “one of the worst cities for commuter pain,” they are forging new solutions to mobility, often through the medium of a mobile device.
Stay tuned to this exciting city and look forward to more good news as tech leads the way to new thinking on the city’s most pressing challenges.