This past September, Ann Arbor SPARK hosted its third annual Ann Arbor Mobility Summit as part of a2tech360 — a week-long celebration of the Ann Arbor region’s dynamic, growing, and innovating tech ecosystem.
The Mobility Summit was sponsored by PlanetM — a Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) initiative. While the new virtual format was different from years past, it allowed for a truly global conversation about building resiliency in the mobility ecosystem, featuring regional, national, and international speakers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way people, goods, and data move. The crisis has accelerated the exposure of existing organizational issues, and the lack of capacity within the systems to recover and adapt to existential challenges.
In dark times, hope is borne from silver linings. In the last seven months, organizations have re-evaluated their strategies to survive this crisis, and be more prepared to persevere through future crises. This article outlines the top 10 strategies we learned from Mobility Summit speakers about how to build resilience in the mobility ecosystem.
1. Know the Gaps
Organizations are re-evaluating strategic priorities based on evolving mobility trends like decreasing personal vehicle miles traveled, increasing micromobility usage, increasing delivery needs, and increasing emphasis on electrification and sanitization. These evolving consumer behaviors and preferences also have a significant impact on organizations’ supply chains. Based on the strategic priorities, organizations need to be honest about technology gaps and fill them with investments in new technologies or form industry partnerships. Employees’ skills and skills gaps within the organization should also be evaluated and influence future hiring decisions.
2. Prioritize Equity
The pandemic has highlighted the need for private companies to expand their offerings to advance the democratization of mobility and ensure that principles of equitable access are inherent to their offerings. For example, despite pulling out of other markets, Ford Motor Company kept its Spin e-scooter service available to healthcare professionals in Detroit during the early days of the pandemic. Companies are also expanding into new business models that could better serve vulnerable populations like seniors, people with different abilities, economically disadvantaged groups, and children. The Waymo One service, which is being resumed in Phoenix in October, allows members to hail autonomous robo-taxis with no human attendants, reducing interactions within vehicles during the pandemic as well as improving access and creating more independence for certain segments of society.
3. Strengthen Supply Chain with AI
Automotive supply chain has been successful in the past thanks to lean principles that include having less lead inventory. Supply chain is increasingly becoming a balancing act of mitigating cost, ensuring service, and accounting for resiliency. Data- and AI-based tools can be useful in getting visibility of the organization’s upstream supply chain and understanding the tradeoffs to build optionality in the supply chain. These new tools allow decisions to be based on future predictions in addition to historical data sets, minimizing supply chain risk.
4. Take a Holistic Approach
Cities and regions are complex, interconnected organisms. However, the organizations that shaped our built environment are historically disconnected and siloed. Organizations that are succeeding today are investing in cross-functional positions that work across departments to develop holistic plans, goals, and KPIs. For example, the State of Michigan recognized the interconnected nature of the mobility ecosystem, and created the Office of Future Mobility in early 2020 to bring together the departments working on economic development and investment (MEDC and PlanetM), infrastructure (Michigan Department of Transportation), workforce development (Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity), and energy grid (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy). The office will also work across state government, academia, and private industry to enhance Michigan’s mobility ecosystem.
5. Embrace Public-Private Collaboration
True public-private innovation is not transactional, but rather collaborative. Organizations that are excelling in developing public-private solutions have acted intentionally to build productive relationships with partners. For example, The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston created the Boston Smart City Playbook that outlines best practices for private companies and academic institutions to engage with the city as a prospective partner. These partnerships are driven by delivering on goals that frame residents’ and officials’ priorities. Another best practice by Transport for London is for the public sector to engage with industry early when developing a pilot. Partners should work together to understand the problem, allowing for trust to be built between the organizations. It’s best for pilots to start small, and scale as success is achieved.
6. Continue Investing in Innovation
Whether public or private, continued investment in innovation and R&D that leverages existing assets is essential to resiliency. The following are examples that were shared during the conference:
- Michigan continues to make investments to remain the leading state in connected and autonomous vehicle technology development. The recent announcement of the Michigan Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) Corridor brings together the public sector, private sector, and academia, to accelerate and enhance the full potential of CAVs.
- May Mobility stopped operations during the initial months of COVID to ensure the safety of their employees and passengers. They used that time to invest in R&D and partner with innovative technology companies to create a self-sanitizing shuttle. The new May Mobility shuttles have internal partitions to separate airflow between the safety driver and customers, along with UV-C light treatment systems and a Halo disinfection system. May Mobility shuttles resumed service in Grand Rapids on August 31.
7. Understand the Bias in Data
Business leaders and policymakers often leverage data to make informed decisions about mobility planning and investment. However, often data is tinged with a bias that can have a significant impact on issues like equity, inclusion, economic growth, resilience, and safety. Organizations that are poised to mitigate data bias prioritize building diverse teams and foster a culture where employees are encouraged to question assumptions and understand data gaps. It’s important that organizations’ workforces are representative of the populations they are trying to serve because having multiple perspectives at the decision-making table increases the likelihood that the many sources of data bias are uncovered.
8. Evaluate the Cost of Inaction.
As the climate emergency becomes a more immediate threat, there is a high cost on the environment for our inaction. However, this cost often isn’t factored into organizations’ calculations of the ROI of investing in sustainable mobility. Investment in sustainable mobility impacts all of us because it directly benefits our environment, including the clean air and water we depend upon. Improvements in technology, infrastructure, policy, and consumer mindset will all be needed to achieve carbon neutrality and ultimately secure a future for the human race.
9. Build with the Community.
Engage the community when building solutions by gathering their input, demystifying technology, and building career pathways. An engaged and connected community is more resilient during times of crisis. Solicit feedback from the community before, during, and after a pilot is completed. Innovation isn’t just about shiny technology. Rather, it’s about delivering sustainable products, services, and programs that solve real community needs.
10. Educate the Market
Since the pandemic has started, vehicle miles traveled in personal vehicles have dropped by 10 percent and more people are biking and walking than before. This is a fantastic opportunity for public and private organizations to encourage the continuation of these habits even after COVID subsides. By capitalizing on this moment to increase community awareness and incentivize sustainable transport, organizations can push individual consumers to have a meaningful impact on carbon emissions and even reap financial benefits for their families.