Google announced Sidewalk Labs, a new initiative meant to rethink and fix the modern city, about a year ago. Now the secretive division, which operates directly under Google’s umbrella company Alphabet, may be ready to move forward with its first full-scale test.
The Guardian reports that Sidewalk Labs wants to manage public transportation and parking in Columbus, Ohio as part of a three-year demonstration. The plan would unite public and private transportation into one hybrid system managed by new cloud software called Flow. It could also rely heavily on private car services like Uber.
Parking is a huge part of Sidewalk Labs’ proposal, and the company says it’s the cause of about 30 percent of city traffic. The plan would combine data from camera-equipped cars and parking meters to find open spots and direct drivers to them using an app. It would even allow private businesses to rent out their reserved parking to bring in some extra cash.
Sidewalk Labs also wants to revolutionize public transportation, using a beefed-up version of Google Maps that integrates buses and trains, along with Uber, Lyft, taxis, car-share services like ZipCar and bike-share options. The plan calls for subsidizing Uber rides for low-income residents who may already be receiving bus passes. However, critics have already argued that this would funnel money away from the city and potentially cripple the public bus system.
Adopting the new plan would also mean giving Google a ton of control over how the city runs and implementing some potentially expensive upgrades, including a new mobile payment system for all transportation, revamped parking laws and new training for city employees. If Sidewalk Labs really can solve traffic it might be worth it. The city of Columbus hasn’t accepted the offer yet but, if it does, it could give Google a chance to show how big data can revolutionize city transportation on a scale we’ve never seen before.