How Cross-Sector Partnerships Are Fueling Innovation in Tampa

Source: Route Fifty on April 30, 2017 | Amy Keller

TAMPA — When a teacher plunked the wrong kid in his car at school pickup time a few years ago, Saravana Pat Bhava was infuriated. But the Tampa father’s anger quickly dissipated when he realized the teachers didn’t have the resources they needed to properly manage the process.

“The tools they were using were walkie-talkies, clipboards, sticky notes and [megaphones],” he told Route Fifty in an interview. So Bhava created his own solution—a GPS-enabled smartphone app called PikMyKid that notifies parents where their kids are, and allows teachers to pinpoint the location of parents’ vehicles.

Today, 66 schools in and around Tampa are using PikMyKid to manage the after-school dismissal process and reduce school traffic congestion. And the state recently awarded the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority a $115,000 grant to license the technology to 20 additional schools in the Tampa metro area—a move that will save each school an estimated $43,000 in labor transportation and traffic management costs.

The public-private partnership is just one example of why smart city proponents are gushing about Tampa.

The fast-growing city on Florida’s central Gulf coast is becoming a model for how collaboration between government and business and forward-thinking leadership can foster a growing digital economy, experts say.

“Not every city thinks this way. Not every city works this way,” Chelsea Collier told attendees of a roundtable discussion on Tampa’s smart city efforts at the University of Tampa last week.

Collier, an Austin, Texas, native, has been studying smart cities in the U.S., China and Germany and promoting conversations about those that are “getting it right” through her Digi.City Connects tour. In addition to Tampa, she’s convened conversations in Denver, Phoenix and San Diego.

Silos, she says, are the death knell of innovation. “Some cities say ‘We’re an entrepreneur kind of hub’ and it all stays locked away in tech, but when you have the spirit of entrepreneurship that exists in the university and city hall and downtown and on the retail side—in the bricks and mortar of what makes a city – that’s something pretty unique and pretty special.”

In Tampa, the most recent, visible example of that collaborative spirit is the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s deployment of four Tesla Model X vehicles for a ride-sharing project along a busy corridor near the University of South Florida, approximately 10 miles north of downtown.

Launched last week, the program is intended to tackle transit user’s “first-mile/last-mile” problem: that’s the challenge that commuters face in getting from their home to the bus stop, or, on the other end, from the bus stop to their office.

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