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Michigan on the Move: Program’s Goal is to Improve Accessibility to Transportation

At last spring’s 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference, Gov. Rick Snyder announced the $8 million Michigan Mobility Challenge, its goal to improve life for Michiganders through improv…

At last spring’s 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference, Gov. Rick Snyder announced the $8 million Michigan Mobility Challenge, its goal to improve life for Michiganders through improved accessibility to transportation. Michigan is a leader in technological developments that will expand transportation possibilities for everyone, especially in accessibility for veterans, people with disabilities and seniors.

“As residents change the way they live, travel and use services, many of the technologies that are changing the transportation industry will be designed, tested and created in Michigan,” Snyder said in a statement. “The $8 million Michigan Mobility Challenge provides an opportunity to deliver innovative transportation solutions and further position the state as a leader in startup testing and deployment

A further component of the challenge is involving advocacy groups, state agencies and service providers via partnerships with the companies doing the work. Some of the advocacy groups mentioned are the Department of Health and Human Services; the Michigan Economic Development Corp.; the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs; the Michigan Department of Transportation; the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons; and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights Division on Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing. According to Snyder, funding comes from Michigan’s general fund and was part of the budget already passed.

Pilot projects are the name of the game, and Snyder said that not every venture that’s part of the challenge is going to work. “But that’s how we learn; that’s how we maintain our leadership position,” Snyder added.

Grant monies will go toward the cost of planning, delivering and monitoring demonstration services for a period of three months to six months. Coverage of remaining costs is anticipated to come from fares and contributions, among other sources. 

“As the needs of residents change, we must develop creative solutions for addressing transit and infrastructure gaps that evolve with geographical shifts,” said Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. “The $8 million Michigan Mobility Challenge allows us to use the assets we have and introduce new methods for getting travelers to their destinations as safely and efficiently as possible.”

Projects aiding the targeted populations of veterans, people with disabilities and seniors are to include living areas not as widely covered by transportation services, such as suburban and rural areas. The transportation department accepted proposals through July 16. Projects will vary in size and are intended to coordinate with current services to the greatest extent possible. 

Organizations had a month after the request for proposals to announce their intentions with the further requirement that they launch a pilot within 60 days of winning state funding. 

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and its PlanetM initiative are doing everything possible to streamline the process of bringing mobility-focused companies and organizations to Michigan. 

The organization’s website describes PlanetM as a “partnership of mobility organizations, communities, educational institutions, research and development, and government agencies working together to develop and deploy the mobility technologies driving the future.” The website goes on to say that PlanetM is available to any mobility-focused company or investor as a no-cost concierge service. Its job is to connect people and companies dedicated to making transportation mobility a priority and open to the possibilities of doing all that in Michigan. 

“Besides making communities safer, greener and more productive,” said Trevor Pawl, president of PlanetM, “we believe a new mobility solution should also be a way to uphold a person’s dignity. If a mobility company or startup has a big idea, they should bring it to Michigan. The evolution of mobility demands collaboration between state, industry, community, advocacy and higher education leaders working together to make sure new mobility raises the quality of life for everyone.”

Michigan was one of the first states to allow self-driving cars on public roads, resulting in its leadership position in projects related to connected and automated vehicles (CAVs). Since research has shown seniors and people with disabilities to be inadequately served by current transportation options, and since they are typically more dependent on public transportation, advocates for veterans, seniors and those with disabilities have been heavily involved in planning pilot programs. Advancements in CAVs could be especially helpful to those populations. 

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