4 Things to Watch At This Year’s Tech and Mobility Conference

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Comotion event
Photo by Maylin Tu

CoMotion L.A., the annual transportation and technology conference focused on urban mobility, is taking place in Little Tokyo this week. This year’s theme, “The Multimodal City,” brings together public and private players from a range of transportation and mobility spaces, including public officials from cities that span from Los Angeles to Paris and a broad swath of tech companies, including Lacuna, Waymo and BP Pulse.

On the agenda: How do we electrify everything, collect data, reduce emissions, get people out of gas-powered, tire-burning vehicles and into something greener, safer and more equitable (i.e. trains). On the minds of many at the conference will be the billions of dollars the federal government has allocated for new transportation infrastructure.

But first things first: How do you host an entire conference on the multimodal city without a single workshop or panel focused on micromobility or active transportation (biking or walking)?

Oh, wait — there’s a fireside chat called “Sustainability in the Slow Lane” with no listed speakers. Um, it’s only the slow lane if you’ve never zipped past L.A. rush hour traffic on a bike or scooter, Brian. Snark aside, it’s frustrating to see more sustainable and healthy forms of mobility characterized primarily as “slow.” Sure, speed is great, but have you ever biked down The Strand during sunset? Also, the lack of programming on pedestrian and cyclist safety is disappointing.

If micromobility is out, then UAM (urban air mobility) and AAM (advanced air mobility) and eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) are in. Space may be the final frontier but investor eyes are fixed on more terrestrial solutions. When it comes to aerial ridesharing, cities are still trying to figure out what will fly: “How should community acceptance be defined, and what is needed to achieve it?” asks one workshop. CoMotion will attempt to answer this and other questions in panels and workshops, drawing on industry players such as Supernal and Overair, the company that announced a partnership with nonprofit Urban Movement Labs to bring aerial taxis to L.A.

Here are some other highlights we’re looking forward to:

The Future of Transit Payments

As L.A. Metro develops and expands its new mobility wallet (set to launch next year), it will be interesting to hear how the agency is reaching unbanked customers often ignored by big tech companies. Metro is also contemplating raising fares and instituting fare-capping, a change that advocates say could hurt the estimated 20% of riders who pay with cash. We’ll be looking at what measures the city is planning to put in place (if any) to make sure its plans for the future don’t leave behind its most vulnerable travelers. Metro might also be set to announce which private mobility players it will be integrating into the mobility wallet — will Angelenos be able to pay for a Lyft or Lime ride with their TAP card or app in the future, setting the city on the path to true multimodal bliss?

Creating a ‘Universal Basic Mobility’ Toolkit in Los Angeles

In conjunction with the mobility wallet it is developing, L.A. is launching the biggest experiment in “universal basic mobility” (UBM) in the country, with 2,000 total people enrolled from South L.A. Participants will receive $150 per month to spend on multimodal transportation from private companies (like Uber) and public transit agencies (like Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus). This panel will explore how all the different elements of the UBM pilot will work together. We’ll be looking at how LADOT is partnering with nonprofits in South L.A. to get the word out about the pilot, future infrastructure improvements for bikes and pedestrians and how the agency plans to measure success.

Bringing Streetcars Back to LA: A Design Visioning Exercise

A workshop sponsored by ArtCenter College of Design takes inspiration from L.A.’s past to envision its future. If you are occasionally struck by nostalgic yearning for a less car-centric city connected by street cars instead of freeways, then this experience may be for you. Hopefully there won’t be too many urbanists crying into their coffee.

The Urban Frontlines of the Autonomous Rollout

With robotaxis coming to L.A. in the near future, it’s worth looking at lessons from other cities (i.e., San Francisco). Waymo is already seeking community buy-in and recently partnered with Bike LA (formerly the L.A. County Bike Coalition). Will Angelenos embrace autonomous technology on already clogged streets? Will robotaxis play nice with bikes, scooters and pedestrians? We’re looking forward to some healthy debate and the presence of Alex Roy (podcaster at Autonocast) seems like a good sign.

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‘Expand Past the Stage’: How These LA-based Ticketing Platforms are Using The Metaverse to Take On Ticketmaster
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. With Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”