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: Finalist cities Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco are pitching their proposals for the Smart City Challenge this week. Learn More >>

But the adoption of electric vehicles by both individual consumers as well as businesses and municipalities has been slowed by limited investment in charging stations as well as other factors.

Smart City hub

Paul G. Allen and Vulcan are partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch the Smart City Challenge: Transforming Transportation to enable the most innovative, ambitious and forward-thinking city in America to show the nation and the world a practical path to replacing carbon-based fuel consumption. Alongside the U.S. DOT's $40 million commitment, Vulcan is providing challenge participants additional funding and support. Vulcan will contribute $10 million to the challenge, as well as technical assistance and guidance for the finalist cities to help improve their proposals for final consideration. 

Vulcan’s investment coupled with funding from the U.S. DOT aims to 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 a winning city, Vulcan and the U.S. DOT are hoping to spur action by other cities. This will show the nation and the world a practical path to replacing 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. Additionally, finalists may be eligible for smaller matching grants to support elements of their proposed plans, which will help scale innovation across the country further and in doing so will further extend the impact of the challenge.

Cities are a major contributor to climate change. And transport alone is responsible for 28 percent of U.S. emissions. By changing how cities power and transport people, we have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the globe. Vulcan has been a strong supporter in bringing about a low-carbon future. We leverage technology, investment and philanthropy to provide an example of sustainable alternatives, jumpstart policy change, and drive consumer awareness and action.

The Smart City Challenge will allow mid-sized cities to compete 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.

The Smart City Challenge includes but goes beyond just electric vehicles. It is designed to help cities transition to a lower-carbon transportation system that includes low emissions vehicles and the transportation technology needed to create safer, easier and more reliable mobility for the future. We seek to help cities improve the quality-of-life for its residents and to reduce the transportation sector’s contribution to climate change. After selecting a winner, Vulcan will then assist that city in the electrification of all possible modes of transportation, while also working with the city to lower the carbon intensity of delivered electricity and with our U.S. DOT partners to deploy associated technologies.

Here are some of the elements we expect the winning city to achieve:

  • 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 challenge will allow the selected city to demonstrate how advanced data, technologies, and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, and support economic vitality.

Vulcan is providing assistance to the winning city in their pursuit of transportation electrification. We are looking for a city that seeks electrification of all possible modes of transportation, including the deployment of autonomous vehicles and ancillary technologies and programs. The U.S. DOT will also support the electric and autonomous portions of this project.

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. 

PLAN DEVELOPMENT AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT

What resources will Vulcan provide to support the finalists’ development of their plans and resulting applications?
Vulcan and the Electrification Coalition will provide guidance and counsel to cities as they complete their applications. They will also provide resources, likely to include best practices, sample case studies, webinars and in-person consultations. Vulcan and SAFE will also assist the cities in proposing applications that are best suited to meet Vulcan’s criteria and priorities.

What kind of technical assistance will Vulcan and the U.S. DOT offer?
Vulcan along with its project partners will assist the winning city in the electrification of all possible modes of transportation, including the deployment of autonomous vehicles and ancillary technologies and programs. The U.S. DOT will also support the electric and autonomous portions of this project.

VULCAN’S IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Electrification Coalition

Who is the Electrification Coalition and why are they involved in the project?
Through its projects Drive Electric Northern Colorado and Drive Electric Orlando, and the Electrification Coalition has unique experience working with cities to create dramatic multimodal shifts in their transportation systems, providing analysis, implementing marketing and outreach plans, and offering overall support. This skillset will be particularly useful to ensure the city selected for the Smart City Challenge is successful in leading our nation to reduce its dependence on carbon-based fuel and electricity.

CHALLENGE PARTICIPATION, ELIGIBILITY AND CRITERIA

What criteria are Vulcan using to evaluate a city's proposal?

Fleet electrification – Replace existing gasoline/diesel light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles with plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles. Focus on the highest impact fleet vehicle uses and work with both public and private fleets (e.g., taxis). V2X applications as a means to involve electric utilities in the project should also be examined. Programs would be expected to include both municipal and private fleets.

Decarbonization of the city’s electricity supply – The greatest potential for greenhouse gas reduction in most cities is in the decarbonization of electricity sources. A winning city’s proposal will address how their plan addresses decarbonization of its electricity supply.

Alternative transportation and public transportation electrification – The inclusion of public transit is important so that all segments of the community reap the benefits of the system transformation. The winning city should also seek to achieve an increase in ridership of alternative/public transportation. Deployments of innovations such as the deployment of autonomous electric vehicles, will be viewed favorably.

Charging infrastructure installations – Some portion of Vulcan’s grant funds may be used for 50:50 matching for the densification and expansion of publicly accessible EV charging stations (particular targets could include corporate workplaces and locations at or near multifamily residential buildings). Partnerships with local electric utilities are particularly important.

Education & outreach programs – Direct engagement with consumers to educate and facilitate broader adoption of hybrid and all-electric vehicles through a targeted education and awareness campaign addresses one of the primary barriers to electric vehicle adoption. This component should also include broader stakeholder outreach.

Financing – Many cities have plans for “smarter” urban infrastructure; a winning city will demonstrate that it can attract private-sector capital. Vulcan will connect candidate cities with resources to develop this element which should employ actions to mobilize other sources of capital.

Induced uptake in personally-owned EVs – A focus primarily on city-controlled fleet conversion (including taxi fleets and public transit) and related infrastructure and technology is desired. Research has shown that cities leading by example spur increased demand by individuals. The funding recipient should also seek to improve public knowledge and perceptions of EVs to further spur demand, including education regarding existing (or planned) financial incentives offered by the city, state, and federal government that can defray the differential cost of EVs for consumers.

How can industry partners and other interested entities get involved? 

Vulcan intends for this challenge to inspire not only the winning city but many cities across the country to take action to change the future of transportation in the U.S. We also believe our investment will encourage other potential funders and program partners to invest in supporting the Smart City Challenge. 

Any interested entities are encouraged to reach out to potential city applicants to build partnerships and help with specific parts of the application process. Other interested parties may find additional partnership information by visiting www.transportation.gov/smartcity

APPLICATION REVIEW PROCESS

Who will make up Vulcan’s review committee?
The review committee will be comprised of a cross-section of business leaders, technology experts, energy and transportation specialists, leading foundations, and academics.

Will the winning city selected by Vulcan be the same city that the U.S. DOT selects as the winner?
Vulcan intends for its winning city to be the same as that selected by the Department of Transportation.

Are there others supporting this program now or will there be others in the future?
Currently this program is being supported by a partnership between the U.S. DOT and Vulcan Inc. Organizations that have joined the Smart City Challenge include MobileyeAutodeskNXPAmazon Web Services and Sidewalk Labs. View the full list of interested organizations.