Smart Columbus Makes the Grade

City reports key successes and what’s next for the mobility technology program



Smart Columbus makes the grade

By Ken Paul, Chief of Staff to Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Mandy Kisling Bishop, Smart Columbus Program Manager | City of Columbus

When Ms. Peg’s car was totaled during the pandemic, she didn’t see a need to replace it right away. Usually, she would visit a food pantry once every two weeks, but without a vehicle, she would have had to depend on others to take her. When a self-driving shuttle expanded service of the food pantry to the Rosewind Community Center, she continued getting food without having a car.

Ms. Peg’s story is one of the many successes to come from the Smart Columbus program, a program that applies responsive, innovative and safe emerging technologies to advance mobility in ways that create greater equity and a higher quality of life.

The beginning of something big

In 2016, Columbus won a $40 million Smart City Challenge award from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Adding $19 million in state and local funds and a $10 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the city developed and implemented a portfolio of emerging tech-based mobility projects to provide safer, cleaner and more equitable transportation options.

Demonstrations aim to solve challenges

We believe transportation is the great equalizer. The city’s mission was never to implement technology for technology’s sake but to demonstrate how an intelligent transportation system and equitable access to transportation can create shared prosperity and provide a ladder or a pathway to education, job training and employment.

Focused on solving residents’ challenges, the city launched a number of demonstration projects, including:

  • Automated vehicle deployment on public streets.
  • A connected vehicle environment that spans four corridors, 85 intersections and more than 1,000 vehicles (and that is interoperable with other regional deployments). This environment generates millions of vehicle and infrastructure messages each day enabling a rich data set to power traffic management analysis.
  • An open source multimodal transportation planning app that applies emerging technologies like machine learning and blockchain to make trip planning more intelligent for users.
  • Improvements to a parking management app to show users private and public parking options and to add parking availability analytics customized to Columbus for on-street parking.
  • Smart mobility hubs that combine multiple modes and are anchored by interactive kiosks that help create first-mile and last-mile connections.
  • An operating system that is built mainly on open-source software, is cloud agnostic with query and visualization capabilities, and enables users to access and analyze more than 2,000 datasets.

The city concentrated its demonstrations in the lower-income, underserved Linden neighborhood. Many of the existing challenges in Linden were exacerbated during the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic may have helped the city illustrate just how powerful using technology to solve community challenges can be.

Following are key successes of the program:

  • Automated vehicles deliver food. Like many communities across the country, we saw food pantry use soar during the pandemic. Similar to Ms. Peg, residents didn’t always have a way to get to the food pantry. And everyone was being asked not to pick up neighbors because of social distancing regulations.

Social distancing also prevented our automated shuttle from carrying passengers, so we recommissioned it. With a trained operator on board, the shuttle transported prepackaged food through the neighborhood on a predetermined route. The Linden LEAP became the nation’s first daily-operating public self-driving shuttle in a residential area. LEAP transported nearly 130,000 meals and 15,000 masks from St. Stephen’s Community House to neighbors in need during the pandemic.

  • App helps plan trips. Users downloaded the Pivot multimodal transportation planning app more than 1,000 times during the pandemic to help plan and pay for trips combining bus, ride-hailing, carpool, bikes, scooters, taxis and personal vehicles or bicycles. The app supported 447 trips to date. Pivot users said transfers between transportation modes were easier, and they were more satisfied with their transportation options, travel time, distance and flexibility.
  • Connected vehicles create safer intersections. More than 1,000 connected vehicles could “talk” to each other and to 85 dangerous intersections. The technology improved emergency response times, slowed vehicles approaching red lights and slowed participants’ speeds in school zones at high crash intersections across the corridor during the demonstration.
  • Access to opportunity improves travelers originating at the Linden Transit Center, improvements to trip planning through the trip planning app and smart mobility hubs expanded the geographic area accessible to travelers within 30 minutes. This expands opportunities to at least 20,000 additional jobs and 3,000 additional health care services. In addition, the CoGo bike share was the first of its kind in the Linden neighborhood, integrating emerging modes into an opportunity neighborhood, making it accessible to more residents.
  • Improved mobility for key populations including pregnant individuals using non-emergency medical transportation and travelers with cognitive disabilities. Participants in Smart Columbus’ prenatal trip assistance project received enhanced smart transportation services and took more trips to medical appointments than those who continued to receive standard transportation benefits provided by Medicaid-managed care organizations. A wayfinding application shifted 82 trips from the personal vehicles of caregivers to fixed-route transit and enabled a majority of the participants to travel independently for the first time.
  • Resident excitement for and the embrace of emerging technology. The trip planning and parking management apps had extremely high app ratings and will serve the new ways in which our residents use and pay for transportation. During the ParkColumbus demonstration, the city noted not only an increase in credit card payment for on-street parking, but also a dramatic increase in payment through the app as opposed to at pay stations.

A space for innovation

Smart Columbus also brought value as a convener for our community. Leaders came together under the program and created space for innovation that we plan to carry forward.

As the Smart Columbus federal award ends, the program begins a new chapter as an agile, collaborative innovation lab, focusing on what is new and next at the intersection of technology and community good. In some cases, Smart Columbus may be the home of that innovation and carry it forward. Other times, we may incubate the idea and hand it off to a partner organization, who will then own it and carry it forward.

In addition, we will continue six of the demonstration projects:

  1. Pivot trip-planning application
  2. Smart mobility hubs
  3. Connected vehicle environment
  4. Smart Columbus operating system
  5. Parking management app
  6. Meals and food delivery service

We also plan to continue electric vehicle adoption. The Paul G. Allen Foundation grant helped the city to achieve some key priorities related to decarbonization, fleet and consumer EV adoption and expanded charging infrastructure in central Ohio. This grant achieved measurable results including a nearly 700,000 reduction in GhG (measured in MT CO2), over 300 fleet EVs and 4,000 consumer EVs purchased, and 914 EV charging ports installed. As a result, Columbus is the fastest-growing region in the Midwest for electric vehicle adoption and sales. We see this initiative contributing to Mayor Andrew Ginther’s goal for Columbus to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

As for the program’s structure and governance, Smart Columbus is now a standalone 501(c)(3) nonprofit with an executive director, co-chairs and a board of directors. The board comprises most if not all of Smart Columbus’ existing 100 public and private partners. Funding is a 50/50 partnership between the private sector and the public sector.

Through Smart Columbus’s evolution, we will continue to innovate to improve our residents’ quality of life with an enduring goal to erase disparities and create opportunities for our residents.


Ken Paul has served as Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s chief of staff for the last three years. Paul joined City government in 2007, previously serving as chief of staff to then Council President Ginther and as Ginther’s legislative aide. He is responsible for leading the day-to-day operations of the office of the mayor and the mayor’s cabinet and directs the City’s $1 billion operating budget process, as well as the City’s capital budget program. Also, he serves on the Board of Directors for Experience Columbus, the Columbus Sports Commission and the North Market Development Authority, and is a Certified Tourism Ambassador.

Mandy Kisling Bishop serves as deputy director of public service assigned as the Smart Columbus program manager and joined the City of Columbus in July 2017. She uses her 22 years of industry experience with an emphasis on complex project management to lead the delivery of USDOT, Vulcan and American Climate Change Challenge grant funded programs. Bishop also oversees finance, human resources and Vision Zero for the department. Prior to joining Columbus, she was a senior project manager with GPD Group managing public improvements for the City of Dublin. Mandy served as the staff lead for the Governor’s 21st Century Priorities Task Force and later as deputy director of planning for ODOT.