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Carefully-planned mobility makes transportation accessible for all



By: Sarah Rigg

August 3, 2018

Electric scooters and bike shares increasingly are offering up alternatives for short trips in Detroit’s urban center. For workers, shoppers, or visitors, MoGo and Bird create affordable last-mile solutions to supplement public transportation and private vehicle use. Bedrock employees are pioneering autonomous mobility through Ann Arbor-based startup May Mobility to move from parking garage to office building through an initiative that began on June 27.

From autonomous shuttles to bike share programs and “blended” models that combine various transportation methods, Michigan residents and people all around the world have access to more ways to get around than ever before.

Mobility innovations have the potential to create economic opportunity for disadvantaged populations, but if social equity isn’t a priority during the planning phase, it may just create more options for people who can already afford to get around in traditional ways, says Tierra Bills, assistant professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Michigan.

People from affluent families that have passed wealth from generation to generation “can buy themselves out of any negative from large transportation plans,” Bills says.

“Social equity is about providing benefits to those with the greatest needs and making sure that those groups who have been historically marginalized are paid close attention and benefitted first, compared to members of society who are more affluent,” Bills says. “We need to make sure we are serving those with the greatest need first.”

As transportation options expand, who benefits?

Transportation is key in “social mobility,” says Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs at Ann Arbor SPARK.

In a “transportation desert” where transit options are few and the main way to get around is by automobile, low-income individuals either can’t afford a car or spend a lot of money on maintaining a car, hindering their efforts to keep a job and “move up the social ladder,” Doshi says.

policy brief on transportation equity put out by AARP notes that “the poorest fifth of Americans spend 42 percent of their annual household budget on automobile ownership, more than twice the national average.”

AARP also notes that workers who have access to reliable and efficient public transportation spend about 7 percent less of their budget on transportation, so programs that improve public transit and blended modes of transportation can play a key role in social equity.

To ensure that disadvantaged populations benefit from new transportation plans, they must be included in the planning process, Bills says. If they aren’t considered, tech companies are likely to promote the new transportation services and routes that make them the most money, not the ones that best benefit the population they’re serving.

“When we have an equitable way of planning for transportation infrastructure that focuses on those with the greatest need, it tends to result in transportation improvements that will benefit a broader range of transportation users,” Bills says.

“We need to get more people who are traditionally left out of those considerations to a place where they can can access the same opportunities.”

Transportation studies and pilots in southeast Michigan

City and county government officials are learning that old methods of transportation, such as fixed-route bus lines, are no longer the best option.

Representatives from the City of Detroit, the State of Michigan, and the business and nonprofit sectors recently collaborated on a Detroit Mobility Innovation Initiative, brainstorming with a consultant over 12 weeks to generate four to eight ideas worthy of implementation.

Garry Bulluck, deputy chief of mobility innovation for the City of Detroit, says they tried to think outside the box. Ideas ranged from systems that maximize parking efficiency by allowing visitors to reserve a parking spot, to infrastructure that would make the existing bus system more efficient.

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Komal Doshi is a 2018 MICHauto Summit Speaker, view the full agenda. 


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