Harnessing Government Technology for Good

Posted by Ben Hecht on
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It’s no surprise that technology has changed how people interact and redefined our notion of community. What you may not know is the extent to which governments today are using technology—moving towards a vision for ‘government as platform’. Cities across the U.S. are turning to data, software and application development, and even social media to improve operations and service provision, transform the relationship between citizen and government, and reduce costs. Boston, for example, has created smartphone applications to help the city track and report problems, from potholes to graffiti. There is great potential in how this transformation can replace the expertise of bureaucracy with a new service-oriented model that democratizes the real-time exchange of information and services, particularly for low-income people. New tools in data and technology should help make cities places of widespread opportunity for all residents.

Living Cities’ Urban Technologist in Residence, Nigel Jacob, helped found the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, which incubates innovative experiments designed to improve city services for residents. In this video, Jacob explains how cities can harness technology and innovation for good.

Video by Jenna Pace Productions, http://www.jennapace.com/v1

The Real Promise of Pay for Success: It’s About People

Posted by Eileen Neely on

Pay for Success (PFS) is all over the news these days. PFS is a new and experimental partnership model between government, social service providers, and private investors to tackle chronic social problems. In a nutshell, private capital, both philanthropic and commercial, is deployed to support high-performing social preventative interventions. These private investors assume the risk by financing the services up front, getting repaid only if agreed-upon measurable social impacts are achieved. In exchange for taking the risk, the investors receive a financial return. This means that precious government resources are spent only in the event of proven success and government savings.

While much of the discussion around PFS has focused on the contracting and the financial model itself as the innovation, Living Cities is especially excited about the possibilities that PFS opens up in terms of investing in people and in promising solutions to our nation’s most wicked problems. To prime the pump and test if PFS is a viable channel for investing in human capital, Living Cities, through the Catalyst Fund, invested $1.5 million in the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice PFS transaction. This seven-year, $27 million deal is focused on reducing recidivism and increasing employment for at-risk, formerly incarcerated young men in the Boston, Chelsea and Springfield areas. This is the largest PFS transaction in the world to date.

Recently, the New York Times ‘Fixes’ column highlighted Roca, the service provider in the Massachusetts PFS initiative. While the column touched upon the details of the transaction, it focused on telling the stories of the youth who are benefitting from Roca’s comprehensive portfolio of programs. We meet Kelord, a young man who went from feeling trapped in a cycle of selling drugs, jail, and chronic unemployment to, at 24, completing his G.E.D., holding a permanent job, and believing in a better future for himself and his family.

PFS enables Living Cities and other investors to make a bet and invest in organizations like Roca. And, Roca makes bets on youth like Kelord—investing in them through a combination of skills training, transitional employment, job placement, motivational sessions that encourage reflection, and a rigorous data system for monitoring all participants’ progress. This, in turn, gives participants the opportunity to bet on themselves. This is where we see the real promise of PFS, whether the issue area is recidivism, early childhood education, foster care or preventative health—it is about how it all comes together to make a material positive impact in people’s lives.

Investing in Infrastructure

Posted by Tobias Read on

When most of us start our days by turning on the water in our homes, we take for granted the clean, safe water that comes out of the faucet. But the essential and invisible infrastructure that delivers it to our homes is at risk. And it’s hardly the only infrastructure that is aging and degrading. In many ways we are coasting on the investments our grandparents made, and it’s time to get serious.

The well-documented infrastructure investment gap around the country is significant on the West Coast. One estimate pegs needed infrastructure investments at $1 trillion in the next three decades. A 2008 study commissioned by Metro showed that the Portland area alone faces a $20 billion gap in needed infrastructure by 2035 if traditional financing and procurement models are used.

With that need and with declining federal support, it’s clear that infrastructure finance is a challenge that’s not going away. What we’ve done for the past half century won’t work to build the future we want.

In Oregon we’re proud to be playing a leadership role in creating the regional approach supported by Living Cities.

Just last month, the Oregon legislature took action on this approach, passing House Bill 4111. Significantly, HB 411 will require state projects over $50 million to be screened for their potential innovative financing and design -- the first such requirement of its kind in the United States. This screening step will be managed by the State Treasurer’s office.

HB 4111 also codifies Oregon’s participation in the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange and creates the Public Infrastructure Commission (PIC). The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, led by Oregonian Chris Taylor, and Oregon’s newly created Public Infrastructure Commission are central to building the capacity and the expertise we need.

Instead of deciding ahead of time what kind of infrastructure we need, we should ask designers, architects, engineers, contractors and other experts to bring the best innovation to bear. They’ll help us decide how we should build, renovate, generate true public equity and think creatively.

And when we decide collaboratively, we shouldn’t just ask how cheaply the infrastructure can be built. We should create an ongoing relationship with a team of experts whose incentives are aligned around keeping the infrastructure open and operating as designed. This alternative model opens up the project (design, build, finance, operate, and maintain) for private investment and expertise. Projects remain publicly owned, and are subject to the same labor standards, but risk can be better shared between the public and private sectors, and the approach allows for much more creativity, and attention to the asset throughout its useful life. Performance-based contracting means contractors get paid when the infrastructure does what it should.

That’s the concept behind the local centers of expertise, already created in British Columbia, begun in Oregon and under consideration in Washington and California. The pioneering Partnerships BC has managed more than forty projects since 2002, totaling $17 billion in procurement, including $7.6 billion in private capital. They’ve helped bridge the financing gap with private capital, bringing significant gains in cost savings and on-time or early project completion, all while creating what is now a self-sustaining operation.

The West Coast states are lucky to have the leadership of Partnerships BC and their model to follow. But the best local expertise won’t work without a regional facilitator.

The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange ushers shovel-ready projects to fruition. By aggregating projects and coordinating expertise and resources across the region we get the chance to share experiences, expertise, and connect with the best ways to deliver better value to taxpayers and investors. And we get big enough that the world financial markets might take notice and provide the capital needed to address the financing gap.

With Governor Kitzhaber’s signature and Treasurer Wheeler’s leadership, Oregon, through the PIC, will continue to be a full participant in the exchange and, working with Partnerships BC, will pursue several important pilot projects that we are confident can stretch taxpayer dollars and deliver better results.

These projects – totaling $940 million in public investment -- range from the Multnomah County Courthouse, at the center of Oregon’s most populous city and county, to the Wise Water Project that will deliver vastly improved performance to a vital irrigation system in water-starved southern Oregon. These and other pilot projects allow us to determine the changes we need to Oregon laws and how best to create a permanent center of expertise in Oregon. That’s a conversation we will take up again during the legislature’s next session in 2015. It’s one I look forward to eagerly.

If we do this right, and I have every confidence we can, the West Coast can become the world leaders on infrastructure that works. Our economy, our kids, and our future depend on it.

Our success in this effort depends on you too. Cooperation between the public, private, and non-profit sectors is essential. While we are grateful for all your support to date, we also want you to be involved going forward. We look forward to hearing from you.

Tobias Read is the State Representative for House District 27, serving parts of Beaverton, Portland, and unincorporated Washington and Multnomah Counties. He has served in the legislature since 2007, and is the Majority Whip and the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development. He can be reached at rep.tobiasread@state.or.us and tobias@tobiasread.com.

Regulating Rideshares

Posted by Matthew McClellan on

This piece is cross posted from the Data-Smart City Solutions blog hosted by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School. The emergence of rideshare as a form of transportation - and how cities are responding to the innovation - is of particular interest to Living Cities as we explore ways to increase the number of low-income people who are able to connect to job opportunities and essential services such as childcare, health services, etc.

As cities respond to the growing presence of ridesharing services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and others, even the name “ridesharing” is up for debate.

Traditionally, for-hire car services have fallen into two broad categories, distinguished by how customers connect with their rides. Taxis, which customers hail on the street and black cars (or limos), which customers arrange for by calling ahead of time. Is something like UberX really a rideshare, closer to carpooling, or is it effectively a cheaper version of black car service? Are these app-based companies more like dispatch services or networks of amateur drivers?

As cities consider how (or whether) they should regulate rideshare services, they must determine whether existing classifications adequately describe them or whether new sets of rules are needed to address concerns for public safety and consumer protection.

The following review of what cities and states are doing now - or considering doing - to respond to rideshare services is not comprehensive, but will hopefully give a sense of the current landscape.

Reclassify & regulate

California: Created category of “Transportation Network Companies” which must be licensed with the California Public Utilities Commission, conduct criminal background checks, train drivers, and hold commercial insurance policies with at least $1M per-incident coverage.

Seattle: City Council unanimously voted to limit each rideshare company to 150 total vehicles. Measure includes increasing number of licensed taxis in city by 200 over the next two years. Mayor Murray has said that this legislation is a “‘necessary first step’ in legalizing TNCs in Seattle, will pursue a more long-term comprehensive solution.”

Arizona: A bill passed by the house and approved by a state senate committee proposes a new classification of “transportation network services” that requires drivers and vehicles to register with the Arizona Corporation Commission (the state Department of Weights and Measures oversees licensing of taxis and other existing for-hire vehicle services). It would also require TNS to do background checks on drivers and obtain commercial liability insurance.

Chicago: Mayor Emanuel proposed ordinance to license rideshare companies and require insurance. Services in the new category of “Transportation Network Providers” would be required to register with city for annual $25,000 fee, submit to annual inspections of vehicles by cities, and hold commercial liability insurance.

Colorado: State senate passed a bill designating ridesharing companies “transportation network” companies. They would be required to hold insurance, do background checks, and driver training as well as submit to utility commission oversight. House still to vote.

Minneapolis: Proposal to add “transportation network companies” to lists of transportation companies that may operate in the city. Currently, rideshare companies must have a taxi license to operate. In neighboring St. Paul, the city’s code narrowly defines taxis as metered vehicles, so rideshare companies currently operate without licensing.

Georgia: House Bill 907 proposed to require rideshare companies to follow the same set of regulation - namely insurance and licensing requirements - as existing taxicab and limousine companies, but the bill failed to reach the floor for a vote.

Fit into existing frameworks

Florida: The state legislature is considering two bills that would prevent local governments from regulating “chauffeured limousine” services. In practice, that would leave the state government as the only body capable of regulating any non-metered for-hire vehicles, including rideshare services.

Jacksonville: City council approved legislation to remove the 30-minute advanced-notice requirement for black car services, allowing rideshare companies to operate as long as they conform to the existing rules and regulations for black car services.

Madison: Mayor Paul Soglin, a former cab driver, has described taxi service as “a legitimate area of government regulation,” citing the need to provide transportation for people with disabilities. He suggests that the city will not create new policies to regulate ridesharing companies as a distinct service, but they will be subjected to the same regulations as existing taxi companies.

Refused entry
Austin: The city has threatened to impound cars in rideshare service over lack of insurance, which led to Sidecar leaving the city.

Detroit: City Attorney says UberX does not comply with Detroit’s licensing requirements. State and local police authorized to ticket cars driving for UberX.

Miami-Dade County: County commissioners stalled bill suggesting changes similar to those rejected in Portland.

New Orleans: Uber has been barred from offering services in the city, and Lyft said it has no plans to enter the market.

Portland: In December the Private for-Hire Transportation Board of Review rejected changes to the city code regulating limousine and black car services, including a minimum lead time of one hour before pickup and fixed 35% premium over taxi rates. The Board is discussing changes to the City Code to better reflect developments in the industry, including smart phone app-centric rideshare services.

Considering action?

San Francisco: Including taxis, limos, rideshares, and any other similar services, there may be about 4,000 vehicles for hire in the city at any given time. As this increased competition leads taxi companies to return some medallions (for drivers likely leaving to drive for competing rideshares), service to the disabled may be disproportionately reduced: the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in operation per month has dropped from 1,400 to 600.

Dallas: A transportation-for-hire work group is reviewing city regulations for possible changes. The City Council committee reviewing tech-based transportation services distinguishes Taxi Magic, an app partnering with traditional cab companies representing 750 taxis, from rideshare companies on the basis that it does not connect riders directly to drivers.

The recent leak of Uber’s “secret, ‘proprietary’ insurance policy” lends some clarity to the legal liability debate around ridesharing. Between that and the apparent rise of Uber as a “cause célèbre” in national partisan politics, activity in this sphere is only going to increase. Follow our Local Reg Reform project (@SmartLocalReg) on Twitter to keep up with this national conversation.

Matthew McClellan works as a research assistant and writer for the Project on Municipal Innovation Advisory Group.

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