- The state of Michigan announced four new projects that will receive funding from the $8 million Michigan Mobility Challenge, including an electric autonomous shuttle service at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, which will help the hospital campus extend its hours.
- Also getting money is an integrated paratransit service platform for Southeast Michigan and a separate mobile app for paratransit services in Grand Rapids that would allow for same-day booking. The state also awarded funds to a ride-sharing platform pilot on the state’s upper peninsula meant to "decrease isolation for anyone with mobility challenges."
- This marks the second round of grants from the mobility fund, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement would "advance our state’s technology and automotive landscape in a way that also improves the quality of life for countless individuals." The state funded 13 mobility projects in September.
The fund, set up by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, is meant to improve mobility options for people with disabilities, the elderly and veterans — groups that could be neglected in the rapidly changing transportation space. In announcing the new recipients at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Whitmer was joined by disability rights advocate Dr. Kimberly Kennedy, who said the new services will help people like her partake in mobility options.
"We don’t always think about the impact that it has on the quality of our life," Kennedy said, according to MLive. "Many times with Uber, they would ride past me when they saw me sitting outside in a wheelchair. To have an app with ... on-demand (service), is awesome."
Smart cities hold tremendous potential for the elderly and people with disabilities, particularly in the autonomous vehicles space, which will potentially allow independence to people who cannot currently drive. But experts warn that won’t happen without conscious effort, and Uber has been sued by disability rights groups in several cities for not doing enough to make its service work for the disabled community.
Michigan’s funding program will help get pilots and businesses off the ground soon (the fund is designed for businesses that can launch within 45 days) and provide a potential model for other cities. Elsewhere, transit agencies like those in Boston and Tallahassee, FL have tried to partner with ride-sharing services to expand their paratransit opportunities. Chicago is also piloting a new model from Smart Cities for All that will test how new technology works for disabled residents.