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Alphabet's ideal city vision involves a world where Uber is king

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In Alphabet’s fantasyland, there are no buses, subways or light rails — there is only Uber. Or at least, that’s what the tech conglomerate’s ideas for Columbus, Ohio, suggest. Documents the Guardian obtained from Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet’s smart cities think tank, reveal conceptual plans in which cities like Columbus should rid themselves of public transportation and instead subsidize travel through services like Uber.

Sidewalk Labs’ focus on this area comes after the city won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City challenge, earning $50 million in funding for research and development in the process.

Alphabet is providing Columbus with Flow, Sidewalk Labs’ traffic management software, for free as part of the competition. The service, according to Engadget, “monitors traffic levels using Google Maps and Waze, with the data coming out the other side used to improve transit routes.”

The software also offers an option that compares and contrasts all options of transportation in one spot, giving the power to the user to ultimately decide their travel plans while being made fully aware of all associated available options, particularly costs and times.

Sidewalk Labs’ plans are not based on any particular attack or divestment in public transport, however. The think tank told the Guardian that Flow is about using data and analytics to help cities work with their citizens to increase the efficiency of road, parking, and transit use, improving access to mobility for all.

Related: Green city or ghost city? Masdar a failed experiment in sustainable planning

“Flow will allow cities to understand their transportation systems in read time, and could be used to improve and plan public transportation, guide drivers directly to parking, or point commuters to shared mobility options they can use when public transportation is not an option,” Sidewalk Labs COO Anand Babu said.

Obtained documents also recommend that vacant lots should be turned into somewhat of a marketplace as well, so that surge pricing would be in effect on busier days to manage demand, and also suggest emptier lots via the Flow app … that means no more aimless driving just to find a place to put the car for a few hours.

While Google’s intentions here on the surface seem very driven by an effort to improve city life, it’s important to remember its own stake in Uber, as well as its research in the self-driving car space.

We’re still a ways off from Google’s ultimate vision — both technologically and legally — but a peek at Sidewalk Labs’ plans portend an interesting future.

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