Michigan Mobility Challenge to address gaps in transportation services







Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced the $8 million project. From left is Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, Snyder, Trevor Pawl of PlanetM and Jeff Mason of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Michigan-based projects that demonstrate innovative, technology-driven transportation solutions for mobility challenges soon could receive a financial boost from the state.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced last week that the state has allotted $8 million to help fund pilot transportation projects that focus on mobility challenges experienced by seniors, people with disabilities and veterans. The projects for the inaugural Michigan Mobility Challenge will be piloted in communities throughout the state and work with already-established services to enhance existing transportation networks.

Growth in the state

The call for projects comes as Michigan aims to be a leader in the advancement of innovative transportation options. The Legislature has reformed state law to provide a better framework for companies to operate and deploy connected and autonomous vehicles with transportation network companies. The state also has funded infrastructure to support such vehicles and has partnered with the private sector on facilities to increase mobility options and spur innovation in transportation.

“As the needs of residents change, we must develop creative solutions for addressing transit and infrastructure gaps that evolve with geographical shifts,” Kirk T. Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, said in a statement Monday issuing the call for projects.

Jean Ruestman, project manager for the department, told Automotive News that gaps in transportation for seniors, disabled people and veterans are often left unaddressed because of lack of funding.

“There are these gaps where they can’t necessarily access what’s out there, or the services that are available don’t necessarily meet their needs,” Ruestman said. “The funding isn’t there to meet everybody’s needs.”

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Jeff Cranson, director of communications for the department, told Automotive News that the state’s frequent support of other mobility initiatives, including vehicle-to-infrastructure testing on regional buses, autonomous and self-driving transit, educational programs, lane detection and long-range transportation plans, has taken precedent throughout the governor’s tenure. Snyder was first elected in 2010.

Planet M, a partnership of mobility organizations, is another effort the state has announced to address problems facing certain populations, along with the American Center for Mobility.

“Michigan has an aging population. We’re going to see more challenges for mobility for seniors especially,” Cranson said. “The more we can do with transit options, the more we can do to provide mobility options.”

Ruestman compared the challenge to the Mobility on Demand Sandbox Program, a Federal Transit Administration initiative announced in 2016 that also allocated $8 million for public transportation projects. Ruestman said that similarly, Michigan’s program is not looking to conduct further research, but instead implement actionable plans.

“This is definitely an implementation, not a research project. We want to actually put services out there,” Ruestman said. “We want to take some of what’s been researched and put it into action.”

Roadblocks

The state’s push for mobility solutions does not come without challenges, including maintaining infrastructure, educating those who will be using the mobility services and incentivizing private-sector startups and companies to collaborate with public-sector transportation services.

Grants will be used to subsidize a portion of project demonstration services for a three- to six-month period for multiple projects costing less than $1 million each. The remainder of the costs will be covered by fares, local contributions and other funds, though Ruestman said the state was working out details as to how the funds would be allocated and does not yet have expectations for how many projects will be funded.

Ruestman said the department has been working on programs to educate businesses and medical facilities on how they can benefit from having or funding the services. In turn, this could help the projects stay financially sustainable without state government aid following the demonstration period.

“It’s obviously in their interest to achieve sustainability,” Cranson said.

Proposals are due July 16 to [email protected]

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