Editorial: Detroit should seize mobility

The Detroit News

Detroit is in a unique position to be a global leader in the long-term deployment of mobility-focused transportation solutions — and not only because it is the automotive capital of the world.

The city’s mission to restructure post-bankruptcy, along with its still high numbers of unemployed or low-income residents without access to public or private transportation, make Detroit the perfect place to test new transportation models at a municipal level.

Those models include ridesharing and carpooling opportunities for those who currently don’t own a car or rely on public transportation, which has been poorly designed and executed in Detroit. These new technologies also hold promise for those who need health care, but have trouble accessing it.

“Were rebuilding the city in a way that few American cities have had the chance to in the last 100 years,” said Mayor Mike Duggan at the World Mobility Leadership Forum held last week at Detroit Metro Airport.

The conference, sponsored by Business Leaders for Michigan and Planet M, featured discussions from leaders in the future of automotive and mobility.

The national average for car ownership in mid-sized U.S. cities is about 90 percent. But in Detroit, it’s just below 75 percent. The city also has some of the highest car insurance rates in the country, which further discourages ownership. Meanwhile, about half of residents between the ages of 18 and 64 didn’t work at all last year.

“We’ve probably got 100,000 residents of our city that have dropped out of labor force, and inaccessibility to jobs is a big part of that,” Duggan said.

Additionally, the city’s lagging public transportation system offers little help. Only 22 percent of the region’s jobs are accessible within a 90-minute fixed route on public transit. Of Detroiters who are employed, more than 100,000 of them leave the city to work in widely available entry-level jobs, which are lacking within city limits.

But innovative ridesharing services from existing companies and emerging startups can offer new, affordable ways for the carless to get to work. As these technologies develop, the cost per ride will continue to decrease, making point-to-point connections as affordable as current public transportation models.

“We’re saying, alright, how do we take this wave of technology and transportation accessible to everybody?” Duggan said of the partnerships between ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, other smaller startups, and Detroit’s car companies. Uber recently announced it would open a facility in Metro Detroit.

Duggan pointed to the city’s recent successful installation of more than 60,000 new LED lights as an indication it is capable of making such technologically-rich improvements.

He said his office is considering a full mobility pass that would incorporate ways to transfer between services like the coming QLine, Detroit’s People Mover, the bus system and private ridesharing or carpooling options. That could help residents get to work who currently have trouble making the first mile and last mile connections.

Duggan also said the city is working aggressively with General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. to ensure testing of autonomous vehicles happens first here.

Detroit is a city much in need of new transportation options, and these emerging technologies promise to improve quality of life for many residents. It’s smart of the city to get out front of the coming mobility revolution.