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Shared Use: Embracing New Modes of Transit

By Rene Wisely

Metro Detroiters have a reputation for loving their cars above all other forms of transit.

However, in recent years, mobility experts and Michigan companies are introducing commuters to new ways of getting around, a movement known as mobility as a service (MaaS) – but will they use it?

“We define mobility as a service as a way to provide the maximum number of options to an individual,” says Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs at Ann Arbor SPARK.

MaaS has roots in the shared-use economy where vehicle ownership is optional as commuters share everything from e-hailing private cars to hopping on public transit. Its benefits include reducing congestion, emissions, stress levels, and conserving non-renewable energy sources.

Michigan’s Unique Challenges

Doshi and her husband, who live and work in Ann Arbor, have owned only one vehicle since 2011. They live on a bus route and they ride their bikes.

“The only time it’s difficult is if I have to go to a meeting in Detroit or Novi,” Doshi says.

That Detroit commute will get easier as transit authorities envision an hourly bus route and a commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Mary Culler, president of the Ford Fund and development director for the Michigan Central Station redevelopment, mentioned at the Detroit Policy Conference that Ford is a part of creating the Michigan Avenue Mobility Corridor.

While details are still under wraps, the corridor would link regional assets like the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti and Mcity in Ann Arbor to attract new mobility innovators, Culler says. One of those assets will be housed in the Detroit Book Depository that stands nearby Michigan Central and will open in mid-2021.

“It will be an opportunity for us to create the beginnings of a mobility innovation district,” Culler says. “There will be collaboration, learning, and innovation with entrepreneurs and startups. I see that being the engine for the broader community.”

The state is involved in expanding Michigan’s mobility capabilities, too. It recently created the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and invited innovators to introduce transit options at the North American International Auto Show in June 2020, a contest known as the Michigan Mobility Challenge. The idea is to help attendees get around while demonstrating how next-generation mobility can transform lifestyles.

Creative Companies Pave the Way

One innovator is startup Parkofon, founded by data scientist Evgeny Klochikhin and David Pickeral, an expert at public-private partnerships. Parkofon is a real-time guidance system that finds cheaper, easier parking.

Parkofon believes the automakers will have the most influence on MaaS, Klochikhin says.

“We absolutely believe the OEMs are going to be the ones to decide how mobility looks,” Klochikhin says. “That’s why Michigan is important. The Motor City is going to decide this.”

Bedrock Detroit is playing a key role too, offering multiple mobility options for its 18,000 full-time employees. It subsidizes bus passes, encourages vanpools and carpools, and invites commuters who park outside the Central Business District to take shuttles – including May Mobility autonomous shuttles, explains Kevin Bopp, vice president of parking and mobility at Bedrock.

Bedrock began cash incentives in December 2018— $8 per day—to try an alternate mode of transportation. Since then, its employees logged more than 1 million alternative commute trips, with nearly 60% of its workforce participating at least once.

“This represents a reduction of more than 390 parking spaces per day on average and has helped prevent more than 7 million pounds of CO2 emissions from single-occupancy vehicles,” Bopp says. “It also delivers a better experience for our team members by reducing commuter stress.”

There is no doubt that Detroiters and Michiganders love their cars, but through the efforts of businesses, people are catching on to how useful MaaS can be. To succeed in Michigan, though, MaaS needs major public adoption.

Rene Wisely is a metro Detroit-based freelance writer.