Businesses Team Up With City Of Detroit On Mobility Test Programs

The following story was published on on May 13, 2018, and written by senior reporter Dustin Walsh who covers economic issues for Crain’s Detroit. Click here to view the full, original publication of this story on

Southeast Michigan’s private sector is teaming up with the city of Detroit and the state to address the city’s transportation gaps by investing in programs to improve access and safety and ease congestion.

Called the Detroit Mobility Innovation Initiative, a group of 10 public and private entities identified four key areas — neighborhood mobility, downtown accessibility, traffic safety and electric vehicle use and education — to develop six pilot programs to launch in the next six months.

Partners in the program include the city, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., General Motors Co., Lear Corp., DTE Energy Inc., Bedrock Detroit, Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund, New Economy Initiative, The Boston Consulting Group and BCG Digital Ventures.

The pilots to launch in the fall are:

  • A mobile app-based demand-driven shuttle service.
  • A low-cost car-sharing program for specific Detroit neighborhoods.
  • An app-based parking mobile app that integrates dynamic pricing alongside a perks program.
  • An electric vehicle hub with fast-charging stations in Capitol Park.
  • A traffic-management system that integrates priority to public transit vehicles at intersections.
  • A “central intelligence” hub to collect and distribute mobility-related data from infrastructure, vehicles and mobile devices.

Mark De la Vergne, the city’s chief mobility officer, said the goal is to address the city’s transportation pain points while building out a sustainable model for the private sector.

“We could’ve come up with our own ideas, but we wouldn’t get the private sector buy-in,” De la Vergne said. “We have a good team here, but we don’t have a great perspective how the private sector operates or how these things are sustainable financially. This allows us to get involved and understand the financial risks and helps these companies understand the institutional challenges city residents deal with.”

The group came together after BCG approached De la Vergne’s team and Trevor Pawl, group vice president of the MEDC’s mobility arm Planet M, about potential mobility ideas, which resulted in constructing a team from the private sector along with more than 100 hours of interviews over the past three months with Detroiters, commuters and the region’s business sector. The group outlined more than 120 ideas before settling on the six pilots.

“It makes no sense for the city to do this on its own,” said Michelle Andersen, partner and managing director of the Detroit office for BCG. “We (BCG and De la Vergne’s team) have a ton of passion around the city. We have people and intellectual horsepower, but we don’t own cars to invest toward this or own charging stations or write apps.”

The pilots will be implemented by the group, with each member working on at least one of the six programs.

GM will work with the city to offer a low-cost car-sharing program to city residents outside of downtown and Midtown. The automaker is currently working with insurance providers to reduce the cost of its Maven car-sharing program to make it affordable to low-income residents, De la Vergne said. The program will likely be launched through a new startup company working alongside a community organization, he said, but what price and which neighborhoods will be targeted remain open-ended.

De la Vergne envisions the on-demand shuttle will serve as a first-mile, last-mile option for city residents that live a distance from traditional bus routes. That program is also seeking an app developer partner to create the algorithm to drive the program.

Bedrock is likely to lead development of the dynamic-pricing mobile app, which will use an algorithm to determine optimal pricing at certain points of the day and offer incentives to shops and restaurants for drivers willing to park farther from the city center, said Kevin Bopp, vice president of parking and mobility for Bedrock. The goal is ultimately to reduce congestion at peak times in the city’s central business district, where street parking is scarce.

The city and Bedrock control around 50 percent of the public parking in Detroit’s Central Business District.

“There’s a real opportunity here to not only direct individuals to parking assets, but to benefit retailers and restaurants. We care about the city, and this group knows for the city to be healthy, the community has to be healthy, and addressing transportation in the city is a big step to getting there.”

The city and DTE plan to install six fast-charging stations for electric vehicles along a current no-standing zone on Griswold Street in Capitol Park, De la Vergne said. The charging stations will be accompanied by educational programming on EVs in the park.

The traffic management system will use vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to allow city buses and other public transportation priority to get through traffic lights quickly — likely holding a green light or yellow light longer as a bus approaches, De la Vergne said. The city plans to launch the pilot in the fall with a “handful” of buses and intersections in the city, which have not yet been identified.

The creation of a “central intelligence” hub will be used to share data collected from connected vehicles and infrastructure with the intent of improving city services. De la Vergne said the city plans to use the hub for real-time notifications of pothole locations as well identifying traffic problems, such as an area where people drive too fast, etc.

Andersen said each pilot is expected to cost between $200,000 and $600,000 and will be funded by the members.

“What we’re doing now is pushing these pilots to the next stage to get a minimum product from contributions from each member,” Andersen said. “Who is providing dollars, hardware or software is still being worked out. There’s no funding model for the future, but we’re confident these solutions will prove worthy enough for continued funding.”