In cities around the world, transit gaps are plaguing urban mobility. Economic developers and public policymakers have done an admirable job ensuring the investments we make in autonomous vehicles meet the needs of their communities. However, an important piece of the puzzle still remains elusive. Hear me out.
The primary focus of advancing mobility has been safety and the convenience of autonomous vehicle technology. Specifically, developing guidelines around safer and more convenient mobility options, such as electric scooters or drones. While these are extremely important, one conversation that needs more attention is accessibility.
We need more innovative thinking to solve critical mobility gaps for seniors and persons with disabilities. And, we need more solutions for families and students who have limited income and do not live walking distance from work, school, medical appointments or grocery stores. Uber or Lyft isn’t a consistently viable option for everyone.
As shared by Raphaël Gindrat in Forbes, transportation is the second-largest expense for most households after housing. Households living in auto-dependent locations spend as much as 25 percent of their income on transportation. This is a major chunk of any family’s budget, but it becomes especially taxing on families with limited income.
Public transit is one solution to help combat this problem. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), public transit users can save more than $10,000 per year when residents have easy access to it. This happens while simultaneously helping to improve the local economy. A win-win. Some communities are even considering free public transportation, partially due to its positive impact on economic development.
In major cities like New York, L.A., Chicago – or even downtown Detroit – taking the bus, using an e-scooter or riding the QLine is much less expensive than owning and maintaining a personal vehicle, and that money flows back into the economy in other ways.
In October of 2018, Dunkirk became the largest city in Europe to offer free public transit, the Guardian reported. With a population of roughly 200,000, the city saw an increase in ridership up 50-85 percent within one month. Residents cited benefits such as seniors being able to stretch their pensions even further, or students and young adults being able to save money when already living on a stretched income.
Many major cities are focused on improving bus and train services, adding more environmentally efficient electric vehicles and studying the impact of shared mobility on public transit.
A great example is the Cincinnati Mobility Lab, a three-year partnership with representatives from Uber, the city of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Council of Governments (OKI), the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK). Similar investments are also being made to extend ride-sharing services to those with disabilities.
After heavy criticism for its lack of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Equal Rights Center in 2017, Uber launched wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAV) in late 2018 in D.C. and five other cities, providing access for passengers in wheelchairs and motorized scooters. Lyft quickly followed suit, announcing in early February 2019 that it has expanded its WAV service in New York City.
Here in Michigan, 13 grants have been awarded to pilot programs that are creating innovative solutions to combat accessibility through the $8 Million Michigan Mobility Challenge. Launched in May 2018, the grants address core mobility gaps for seniors, persons with disabilities and veterans across the state.
Those projects include:
- New Autonomous Mobility Vision for Michigan – An autonomous electric shuttle at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center. This will allow for extended hours of service to veterans on the hospital campus as well as an easier method for ordering and scheduling services.
- Southeast Michigan Integrated Platform for Paratransit Services – An integrated online booking and trip management platform that can create a “one-click” experience for users of AAATA, DDOT and SMART ADA Paratransit services, making scheduling and managing paratransit trips easier for seniors and people with disabilities.
- Team Grand Rapids: Interurban Transit Partnership – Utilizing a dynamic ride share app for paratransit services in Grand Rapids to improve rider experience by shortening trip duration and reservation lead time. This will allow booking trips the same day and means users will spend less time on the bus.
- Michigan Universal Vehicle Ecosystem Pilot – A ride-share platform in the central UP that will focus on increasing accessible transportation options, building community and decreasing isolation for those with mobility challenges.
If we want to transform mobility in cities, states and countries across the globe, we have to explore solutions that benefit society and improves quality of life altogether. The only way to do this is by investing in programs that truly meet the transportation needs of our communities and all the citizens that occupy those communities.
Visit PlanetM to learn more about the new mobility solutions we’re supporting to make our communities safer, greener and more accessible.