Philanthropy

Smart City Challenge

Smart City Challenge

Transportation – cars, trucks and buses – is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. The increased use of electric and other alternative vehicles with low- or zero emissions has the potential to help disrupt the current climate trajectory – one of the most urgent challenges the world is facing. 

  • UPDATE: Out of the seven finalist cities, Columbus was named the winner of Smart City Challenge! Learn More >>

Consumers and businesses are not investing in electric vehicles because cities are not providing the infrastructure needed to make owning these vehicles feasible. 

Smart City hub

To catalyze that needed investment, Paul G. Allen and Vulcan are partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation on the Smart City Challenge to enable the an innovative, ambitious and forward-thinking American city to lay a practical path to replacing carbon-based fuel consumption. Vulcan is contributing $10 million to the challenge, as well as technical assistance and guidance, alongside the U.S. DOT's $40 million commitment.

Additional support will come from private organizations that have joined the Smart City Challenge, including MobileyeAutodeskNXPAmazon Web Services and Sidewalk Labs. View the full list of connected organizations. 

This investment and support will help Columbus, Ohio, create a first-of-its-kind modern transportation system that will demonstrate “what’s possible” by showcasing bold innovations, climate-friendly vehicles and technologies that link people to transportation information in ways that will improve quality of life and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

By showcasing Columbus as the winning city, Vulcan and the U.S. DOT hope to spur action in other cities around the nation. Columbus will be a leader on how to successfully replace carbon-based fuel consumption through critical system improvements that increase safety, reduce carbon emissions, and enhance mobility. The challenge will catalyze further innovation and scalable, proof-of-concept solutions to one of the world’s most urgent problems. We will show the practicality and rewards of transitioning from dirty, carbon-based fuels to clean, low-carbon energy sources.

The Smart City Challenge inspired 78 mid-sized cities to compete for the opportunity to demonstrate how advanced data and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, and support economic vitality.

Additionally, the other six finalist cities, Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco, will benefit from the support of the Smart City Challenge Collaborative, which is made up of private sector partners along with the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Now that Columbus was selected as the winner, Vulcan will assist in the electrification of all possible modes of transportation, help to lower the carbon intensity of delivered electricity and work with U.S. DOT and partners to deploy associated technologies.

Here are some of the elements the cities will be working on:

  • Conversion of city vehicle fleets, public transit, and taxis from conventional (internal combustion) to electric.
  • Conversion of private fleets from conventional to electric.
  • Decarbonization of the city’s electricity grid.
  • Deployment or field testing of autonomous vehicles (bringing safety, traffic management, and environmental benefits).
  • Increased consumer adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Development of lessons learned, data-driven metrics, sustainable financing tools and other best practices that will comprise a “playbook” for other cities to follow.

The implementation of these elements will begin in September 2016. Check back here and on Smart-City.news for updates. 


This project is part of several Vulcan initiatives designed to bring about a low-carbon future. We leverage technology, investment and philanthropy to fuel sustainable alternatives, jumpstart policy change, and drive consumer education and action for the problem.