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4 Mich. projects to improve transportation for elderly, disabled

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Detroit — Four projects to improve access to transportation of the elderly, veterans and those with disabilities across Michigan will receive nearly $4.8 million in grants.

The grants are part of the $8 million Michigan Mobility Challenge from several state agencies, including the Michigan Transportation Department and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined the heads of the agencies Monday at the North American International Auto Show to announce the second-round recipients of $4.8 million in grants to solve transportation challenges for underserved people across Michigan

Included are:

  • A "one-click" online booking and trip-planning platform for transportation for seniors and people with disabilities in metro Detroit will get $1.05 million. The project includes the Detroit Department of Transportation, SMART and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
  • A ride-share app for transportation services for the disabled in Grand Rapids will get $374,000.
  • An autonomous electric shuttle at the Battle Creek VA Center will get $2.2 million.
  • A ride-sharing platform for the elderly and disabled in the central Upper Peninsula will get $1.2 million.

"Too often when we talk about mobility, we have a tendency to go to self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles," Whitmer said, "but what we really should be talking about is how this technology and innovation that is happening right now can impact and improve the quality of life for people."

The $1 million subsidy for metro Detroit goes to the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan to create a one-click or one-call booking service for public transportation across Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

"The hope is that we will provide more mobility opportunities for these people," said Matt Webb, chief operating officer of the authority, "making it easier to get a job, healthcare or education."

The program would coordinate services between the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, Detroit Transportation Department and Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation's Americans with Disabilities Act paratransit services.

"There are several different places where people go," Webb said. "This creates one spot for people in the region who want to book a ride."

Ann Arbor's Menlo Innovations LLC will work with the agencies to gather information on how the target group of people use the services and investigate best practices for such a service, Webb said.

Webb said he hopes the service will launch in eight months, and the pilot program is expected to last 18 months. If successful, Webb said, the authority would look for a new source of funding.

The grants given to Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and communities in the Upper Peninsula are meant to support the services for three to six months.

An autonomous electric shuttle project led by Pratt & Miller Engineering at the Battle Creek Veterans Affairs Medical Center received nearly $2.2 million. The program will allow for extended hours of service to veterans at the hospital and create an easier method of scheduling services.

The University of Michigan and Western Michigan University also will work with Pontiac's information technology consulting and product engineering firm Kevadiya Inc., Robotic Research, Comet Mobility and nonprofit Easterseals on the project.

The city of Grand Rapids and its public transportation service The Rapid received $373,782 for a new ride-share app that would seek to shorten bus trip durations and allow people with disabilities to book trips the same day.

A nearly $1.2 million grant also seeks to create a ride-share platform in the central Upper Peninsula to focus on increasing transportation option for the elderly and disabled.

"We're trying to increase access to mobility for all people," said Jeff Cranson, MDOT communication director. "It's a social justice narrative."

The first $3.5 million of the Michigan Mobility Challenge were announced in October. In total, 13 pilot projects have been supported.

Disabilities advocate Kimberly Kennedy of Grand Rapids on Monday shared her testimony of being passed by ride-hailing company drivers when they saw her in a wheelchair and spending two hours on bus trips.

"We don't always think about the impact it has on our quality of life," Kennedy said. "I think this is going to be a great addition to our transportation."