In part one of our two-part interview with LA CoMotion Chairman, John Rossant, we hear how the future of mobility is taking shape in cities around the world and right here in Southern California.
Plus how Los Angeles is leading the revolution in transportation innovation.
Recording date – November 19, 2017
John Rossant: It’s a fact of life you have to get into a car to go places. So the needs are huge here to have better solutions to mobility, and then you have this critical mass of a market of 10 million, you know, auto mobility consumers in LA County which is enormous. But you have other things that I think will make it this sort of capital of transportation technology,
It’s not a coincidence that Elon Musk who’s probably the one person in the entire world who is really thinking big things about how you move, whether it’s underground, or to Mars, or across LA, or in a Hyperloop, or in a Tesla. He lives here, all of his activities are, if you think about it, are kind of about Los Angeles region.
LA, of course, is a great tech startup center now. It’s Silicon Beach. And you combine that with, you know, the big technology advances that are being developed in California, it makes this area incredibly exciting and the logical place to bring global leaders to talk about the future of mobility.
Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility in the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. I’m your host, Tom Smith, and today I’m joined by John Rossant. John is the founder of New Cities, which is an organization that put on a first ever event here in Southern California, right here in LA, called LA CoMotion. John, thank you so much for joining me today.
John Rossant: Hey, thanks a lot, Tom.
Tom Smith: So, let’s start. Just highline. LA CoMotion is?
John Rossant: LA CoMotion is a… it’s actually global gathering of the movers and shakers driving the mobility revolution and we strongly believe that we are on the cusp, if not fully inside the vast mobility revolution, which will radically change how we human beings move around cities, move around countries, how goods get around, etc. We think it’s going to be one of the big things impacting what cities look like over the next few decades, and will really, I think, change many of our lives.
Tom Smith: Well, we definitely need it here.
John Rossant: I could say that I totally agree.
Tom Smith: It’s pretty brutal getting around Southern California, LA especially. So, New Cities is the organization that put on LA CoMotion and from what I understand, there’s other events that you’ve done through New Cities in other parts of the world.
John Rossant: Well, New Cities Foundation, it’s a nonprofit foundation we’re actually headquartered in Montreal, Canada. And we look at the future of cities and how to make cities more dynamic, more connected, more healthy, more sustainable. We work with a large… very, very wide variety of global organizations both private sector like Google, Verizon, Ericsson, Cisco. So a lot of big technology companies, but also a lot of smaller startups, etc. We work with other nonprofit institutions and universities, whether it’s MIT or NYU. And we believe that, you know, to advance the conversation, it’s really good to bring the key stakeholders to the table. And the thing about cities, when you look at cities is no one really owns the city. You know it by definition it’s a collaborative effort.
And so we feel as a kind of nonprofit institution with really no skin in the game in a sense. You know we do have the ability to bring people who might not be talking to each other so naturally we bring them together. And so we have a big annual meeting called The New City Summit which gathers around a thousand city leaders. It’s been in a different global city every year, we had our last one in Korea last June. But we’ve been focused more and more as a foundation on the whole issue of mobility in transportation. As I said there is a revolution afoot. We think every city on earth will be impacted by that. So we began to look starting around four or five years ago at the future of urban mobility. You know how will we get around cities in 10 years and 20 years, etc.
Because four or five years ago, if you remember Uber had sort of burst on the scene out of nowhere. And suddenly Uber, this company was worth a billion dollars. Now it’s, I don’t know, 70 billion. And also people were just starting to talk about autonomous vehicles and we thought something is really happening. So we organized a small conference with the basic idea of let’s bring the kind of 150 or 200 smartest people in the world who think about the future of mobility let’s bring them together.
And so we had the first little conference up in Mountain View, actually at Google headquarters and they were very generous in giving us a hall to have this. And then we did another edition a year later in London, England where we worked with the…
Tom Smith: So what was that first conference?
John Rossant: It was about four years ago. And then a year later in London, last year in November we met in Tokyo. But at the same time starting about two and a half years ago or three years ago, Tom, we started looking at what was happening here in Los Angeles. And if you remember, the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti, and the City Council had issued a remarkable report called the Mobility 2035 plan which looked at…it was kind of blueprint for the future mobility of Los Angeles to 2035. And it was absolutely remarkable. And it came across my desk and I thought wow, this is not the LA that I used to know of, you know, the traffic jams and freeways and smog and blah, blah, blah. This is a radically different future and so I came out here and I… what became soon very obvious was that this was going to be…this will emerge as one of the key epicenters of the mobility revolution. As you said yourself, Southern California is the biggest automotive space in the United States…
Tom Smith: I think Detroit’s going to be upset when they hear that moniker that I’ve given it but that’s okay.
John Rossant: Well, but you know I think there are not as many people in the Detroit area. And it’s… you know, here you have more cars than people. And it’s a city in a region that is obsessed by mobility and transportation for good and bad reasons.
Tom Smith: It’s a must.
John Rossant: It’s a must. It’s a fact of life you have to get into a car to go places. But it’s… so the needs are huge here to have better solutions to mobility at the same time you have… and then you have this critical mass of a market of 10 million, you know, auto mobility consumers in LA County which is enormous. But you have other things that I think will make it this sort of capital of transportation technology, which is how Eric Garcetti says it. And that is you have the whole heritage of the aerospace industry here which is also about mobility. It’s about getting from point A to Point B aerially.
But you have that know how which can be very much transferred to, you know, terrestrial mobility. You have… you know, it’s not a coincidence that Elon Musk who’s probably the one person in the entire world who is really thinking big things about how you move, whether it’s underground, or to Mars, or across LA,,or in a Hyperloop, or in a Tesla. He lives here, all of his activities are, if you think about it, are kind of about Los Angeles region. All the Hyperloop companies which he spawned are based here etc.
There’s LA of course is a great tech startup center now. It’s Silicon Beach. It’s the third in the United States. It’s very, very vibrant. And you also have, and I think that this cannot be underestimated at all. You have a generation of enlightened and visionary public servants starting with Eric Garcetti but including, you know, other mayors around and city officials in LA County, plus Salita Reynolds who’s the general manager of the LA Department of Transportation. Absolutely visionary person. And so you have put all of that together and you combine that with, you know, the big technology advances that are being developed in California. You know maybe not all here obviously up in the valley. But you know they’re being deployed here at scale. So it makes this area incredibly exciting and the logical place to bring global leaders to talk about the future of mobility.
Tom Smith: Talk a little bit about how John came to found New Cities and then we’ll get back here to LA CoMotion.
John Rossant: Sure. I had been actually based in Europe and starting in my previous activity was I was the guy putting together a very big high level conference every year called The World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland which… where it’s global leaders but public sector and private meet at the end of every January every year. And it kind of… it’s one of the big important meetings in the glow. And so I had to put that together. I had to produce it for quite a few years. And one of my… starting around 15 years ago kind of realized that cities in many ways would be the next big thing because there was an absolute tsunami of populations moving into cities particularly in East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East that was really unprecedented in human history. For the first time the world population passed to majority of us now live in cities rather than rural areas. So this was… so we absolutely haave to get cities right if we are to survive as a human species. And I think I was… maybe felt, I guess, more and more that city issues and looking at questions of urbanization got kind of short shrift in Davos in the event I was doing, and really I felt that we needed a very focused discussion on the future of cities. And that’s what led me about eight or nine years ago to set up the new city’s foundation as an independent nonprofit global institution looking at ways to improve cities.
Tom Smith: And as that was becoming a thing event such as LA CoMotion was part of the plan?
John Rossant: No, no, no. That was quite a long time ago. No it was…not really. We organized and we still organize our big annual meeting of the Foundation which is called the New City Summit which looks at many different themes from, you know, Internet of Things, to governance, to power sector, to mobility in cities. But more and more I think, you know, in the last few years we thought gee the mobility thing is becoming so important and so central to what cities are going to become in the future that we had to really focus on that. And you know LA as I said is just a natural place for that very high level conversation. And high level but also a very practical level because what’s been wonderful to see over these past few days are the hundreds if not thousands of Angelenos who’ve come here to learn about the future and learn about what’s coming down the pike. And in a very genuine way and open way. And the vibe and the atmosphere has been great.
Tom Smith: So that’s a natural lead in to the success of the first year’s event. Tell me about that.
John Rossant: Well yeah I mean we know we structure it so it’s a four day event.,The first two days are kind of high level invitation only, a very, very dense conference program of leaders from around the world. A lot of bilateral meetings. I mean people who you know used LA CoMotion to whether it’s, you know, the Minister of Transportation of Denmark who was here meeting with a Brazilian architect you know or something like that. Hundreds of these kinds of meetings. So that was Thursday and Friday and then the idea was to open up the event to the general public free of charge on Saturday and Sunday. And there’s another conference program very very rich. I mean there’s lots of… we worked with the city to close down an entire street for five days. Colleton street in the arts district. So there are lots of…you can test drive tons of new kinds of electronic scooters, autonomous cars, there’s an autonomous van. There’s all kinds of gear that you can, you know, motorized skateboards. Lots of very, very, very cool things.
Tom Smith: So…and on that note I mentioned one of the scooter companies out there. I think they call it a scooter. I know the founder and I’m going to hopefully get a ride on a scooter. But one of the things that he mentioned to me ties in to what I wanted to ask you about and that is we’re moving at like breakneck speed with things that in the past, regulations and governmental bodies would have just like put up brick walls it seems. And I use this instance, and this isn’t government, this is commerce, but my friends company OjOs Scooters I believe, or OjO’s electric. I’m not sure what it’s called.They in three months got a deal done with Ford. Globally. A three month deal globally with Ford? I mean..
John Rossant: Well, yeah. You know Tom that’s… you put your finger on it because I think what’s so fascinating about this sector is exactly how fast moving it now is becoming. And you know two years ago you could talk about electric cars, electric scooters. It just sort of was beginning to happen but was very slow. Now it’s…everything is happening quickly. And what’s interesting about the regulatory side. I mean Ford has a private sector group. OjO, which I love by the way and I’d love to talk about that. It’s an interesting example of designed in the United States. You know these great products. But the regulatory. On the regulatory side things are moving quickly too. You know if you think about five years ago four or five years ago the Department of Transportation in Washington had not even woken up to autonomous vehicles, right? I mean the words autonomous vehicles or driverless cars we’re not even used by the Department of Transportation. Now the House and the Senate and Washington have just passed, you know, incredibly forward looking legislation regarding how autonomous vehicles can be used and tested on roads in United States. So things are really moving quickly now.
Tom Smith: In the next episode of iDriveSoCal my conversation with John Rossant of New Cities and LACoMotion continues.
John Rossant: Let’s say you’re flying in to LA Olympics in 2028. You will have a driverless taxi. Will pick you up because you would have ordered it when you’re getting off the plane. It’ll pick you up curbside at Terminal 6 at LAX., whisk you to your hotel. Traffic jams will be the sort of quaintest dark memory by that point. You’ll order a flying tack…flying driverless taxi from the Uber NASA joint venture called Uber air Taxis.
Tom Smith: You heard right – a flying driverless taxi will be brought to us by the joint venture between Uber and NASA. And that’s predicted for just ten-years from right now! That and more coming up on the next iDriveSoCal. Until then, I’m Tom Smith. Thanks for listening.