What Portland Can Teach Your City about Private/Public Partnership

I recently attended an ‘Urban Partnership’ meeting between the cities of Denver and Portland, Ore. Sponsored by the Downtown Denver Partnership, the event featured a panel of local private and public mobility leaders candidly discussing the challenges they faced- and how they overcame them. The session explored how both the public and private sectors are leading Portland’s embrace of entrepreneurship in the transportation industry, and showcased some of the innovations on tap for Portland in the next few months and years.


Downtown Denver Partnership Inc@4x


Portland has long been considered a leader in establishing rich and collaborative partnerships between the private and public sectors. Initiated years ago by Portland’s transit agency publishing its bus and rail arrival information in an open format that has since become the industry standard, the City of Portland, Tri-Met and the private sector have long embraced advancing transportation technology. Recently TriMet (Portland’s public transportation provider) was awarded a grant from the Federal Transit Agency to expand the use of public and private OpenTrip data, (similar to the general transit feed specification) in order to pave the way for future mobility innovations. (Full disclosure, moovel is partnering with TriMet and many others in this exciting effort.)


Jaguar Incubator Office

Pictured: Portland Jaguar Incubator Program facility


On the panel, which was held at the Jaguar Land Rover Incubator, were some longtime advocates for private/ public partnership: Margi Bradway, Active Transportation Division Manager, Portland Bureau of Transportation, Skip Newberry, president and CEO at Technology Association of Oregon, and Mac Brown, vice president of business development at moovel NA. It was a fascinating conversation about the future of private/ public partnership for urban mobility. Below are some of the key points they made:


1 Study Bike Sharing Partnerships- MargiTra Bradway developed and runs the Portland bike-share program, Biketown (amongst wearing many other hats). Biketown is Portland’s bike share system, launching in July 2016 with 1,000 bikes and 100 hubs. It’s a fun, affordable and convenient way to get around Portland. The system uses Social Bicycles (SoBi), which are sturdy, durable bikes that are specially designed for bike share. The bikes are locked into a network of hubs throughout the city, and can be unlocked from one hub and returned to any other hub or public bike rack, making Biketown ideal for one-way trips.

Margi spoke at length about PBOT’s role in our community and their use of data, shared with and through a variety web sites and integrated mobile apps. These public/private partnerships are possible because of the work done by policy makers- but the work is far from complete.


2 Identify Successful Public/ Private Investment Partnerships- Margi was followed by Skip Newberry, president and CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon. Skip spoke about the transformation that has occurred in Portland, the fastest growing city in the United States. Portland’s great public transportation options, combined with specific zoning laws, have gotten a lot of attention at the federal level. According to Skip, the key to urban mobility progress comes down to collaborative public and private investment. No one denies the massive need for investment in the future, but the appropriate mix and invitation from local and federal government to the private sector still needs definition and discussion to make all parties excited about investing and the returns everyone can expect.


3 X Public Transportation is the backbone of mobility in communities. – Mac Brown, VP of Sales at moovel rounded out the speakers.  Mac discussed the history and depth of the partnership that has grown between moovel and TriMet since we launched our first mobile ticketing app together in 2013.  His key message: public transportation needs innovative technical partners to bring them solutions that provide parity with other mobility options (bikeshare, car share, ride hailing, etc.).  Public transit still serves the largest number of non-driving commuters each day across our country and embracing new technologies will keep ridership high and encourage new riders to join in.


In an environment where it can seem feel like cities compete for talented citizens, prestige and titles like, ‘America’s Nicest City’, it was refreshing to be a part of a conversation that was aiming to share all the secret recipes that have made Portland such a great place to live. So here’s to a future where our aim is to bring innovation to both coasts and all points in between!

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.