Dick Alexander

Mobility360

CEO

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Tell us about you, and your career journey?

I started my career attending design school with an undergraduate degree in Urban Planning And Design. What was unique about my education is the fact I was learning about cities in a design school context that included architecture, graphic and industrial design departments. We focused on livability of cities and the inter-relationship among the dynamics of urban spaces. The school had a co-op program where I worked with a city planning department and the local transit authority. It is here where I got the mobility bug. No matter what element of a city one focused on, how we move was the connective tissue that defined the possible. Work, shopping, access to health care, education was all dependent on mobility and in turn mobility defined a community’s boundaries and density. The Additional interest in mobility was its relatively short time frames to implement change. As most young people, I was impatient to effect change and working with mass transit allowed me to imagine and implement change in a relatively short time frame.

After working for several public agencies in the areas of planning, scheduling and paratransit, I Left to work for a startup company in the transportation. The company provided customers door to door transportation between cities. This shared ride service was ahead of its time and appealed mostly to seniors and kids of divorced parents who wanted the reassurance provided by door-to-door service. It was wildly successful in its growth but a failure as a business. It is here where I Learned the lessons of cash flow and the price of growth. The business is undercapitalized. It was also very manual as the personal computer had just recently been invented. Had we started this business five years later it would have been a different story. In retrospect, my third lesson was the power of technology on mobility.

From this experience I worked for private companies providing contracted transit service to public transit organizations. Here I learned operations. Recruiting,training and managing talent was a big part of what I did managing multiple locations as a regional Vice-President. There were three major takeaways.

- First, working for a multinational corporation, I got to see the world and see first-hand mobility across the world. France, Morocco, Czech Republic, China, Philippines, Japan And many more countries opened my eyes to the world and formed an understanding of mobility impacts in society. Whether it be the Jeepnies of Manilla, the gondolas over Bogota or the ferries of Sweden, I learned the variety of ways people move beyond the typical 40-foot bus.

-  The second learning revolved around innovation. Leading not only business development activities but also our innovation group, we spent a lot of time solving big problems. In this period,we developed the concept of Public Private Operating Partnerships, a reorganization of the contracting relationship designed to assign public and private roles based on what each party does best. The division of duties roughly divided by the public entity setting policy (e.g. fares, service, budget, accessibility,equity) and the private sector doing what it does best, implementation. The model rebuilt New Orleans after Katrina, rescued Long Island’s bus system from financial disaster and rebuilt a small system, TAPS, in northern Texas that was bankrupt. Designing solutions rather than cookie cutter approaches was our added value. We also led efforts to integrate public and private service providers into a single system serving those customers with disabilities. And finally, we introduced the U.S. to the power of autonomous travel, first with a road show and later partnering with Waymo, Alphabet’s AV service.

-      The third learning was executive management. While working as a transportation executive most of mycareer, the rubber hit the road starting with the startup of a new division ina new space as I created the Alternative Services division serving Waymo.Building from scratch an organization that was tech savvy, young and a bridge between tech developers and operators meant creating a different kind of corporate culture. We did things differently and used the opportunity to influence change in our traditional business. From there I learned to be a CEO. Having accepted the interim CEO position with the sudden departure of the previous CEO, I Assumed the role on a Tuesday and the COVID shutdown began that Thursday. We Had to work on all cylinders. Protect our employees, rally morale, restructure the business, create a culture of shared sacrifice, organizing our competitors to protect our industry were all part of being a CEO. With our parent company being hit even harder in Europe and South America, we were on our own to preserve cash flow, renegotiate contracts, maintain our infrastructure to return to service in the future and keep our employees engaged in order to preserve their wages and health insurance. The experience was one of the most rewarding of my career.

So here I am today, creating a new group called Mobility360. The purpose of Mobility360 is to help public transit organizations, technology companies, real estate developers and investment firms leverage the disruption in mobility brought on by technology and changes in how and why society moves. It is an exciting time in this space.  

In your opinion, what are the top 3 trends in your transport industry niche that everybody should lookout for in the next 5 years?

a.    Mobility will be defined by the users, not the providers. In the “old days”,mobility was dictated by the bus schedule, the taxi stand, the ownership of car. Transit routes and service schedules told us when, where and how we will ride. Taxis determined where and whom they would provide service. Your personal financial situation determined your ability to get a car loan. Technology in the form of the Smart Phone changed all this. Consumers now hold the power of choice in their hands. Car ownership is no longer required to reach destinations in transit deserts with the advent of shared ride platforms. Whole Classes of trips have become unnecessary with eCommerce, home delivery, telemedicine and work from home. Mass transit, a critical part of the equation, can no longer survive trying to be all things to all people with a forty-foot bus.Mobility As A Service (MAAS) combining multiple consumer choices of travel,whether combined in a single app or multiple apps on a smartphone, replace single mode travel options.

b.    Autonomy is for real – New start companies, financial investors and traditional manufacturers have placed their bets. With $100+ billion invested in autonomous mobility in theU.S. alone, autonomy will happen. The only question is which use case will be first. While passenger transport is front and center, the logistics of waxing a floor, moving tractor trailers in a depot or creating highway “freight trains”may be the early adopters. For passenger transport it will start with safety.Autonomous technology may not initially replace the steering wheel but rather be the early warning system that builds consumer confidence in the technology.At the end of the day, however, autonomous mobility will happen. It’s only a matter of when.

c.     Our urban space will change – In the words of architect Louis Sullivan, form follows function. Urban space will change as a result of societal changes and technology. Retail centers will merge brick and mortar stores with eCommerce distribution. Autonomous vehicles will move goods as much as people. Prime real estate will no longer be used for parking as curb drop-offs will makes on-site parking unnecessary. Curb space will become prime real estate.  Streets will be designed to accommodate pedestrians, motorized scooters/bikes and the automobile.  

 How does your company innovate?

While I do not think all urban planners would agree, I see urban planning as steering the urban environment in an intended direction versus urban design as responding to trends already in motion. (Thus, form follows function) I see Mobility360as designers looking at the entire mobility ecosystem in the context of societal changes, technological changes and the evolution of physical space. We design innovation in mobility in response to these trends. To do this we must understand the capabilities of technology, we must look at solutions as futurists and we have to be practical and grounded in the real-world. One eye looking forward while the other is looking today.  

Why is encouraging innovation, new ideas, and applying new technology important?

Like a shark that must continuously move forward to survive, a business/service must evolve and iterate to remain relevant. There will always be disruption. We can choose to be a Blockbuster or a Netflix. It’s our choice.    

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