Grand Rapids is one of three cities nationally to be selected for a pilot program from Ford Motor Co. aimed at addressing the transportation needs of today and in the future.
In selecting Grand Rapids along with Miami and Pittsburgh, the Dearborn-based automotive company hopes to engage residents and the business community in determining the barriers people face with transportation and determine how new technology can address that, according to Aniela Kuzon, Ford’s global lead for the City of Tomorrow Challenge.
“(W)hat we think is really important is to partner with cities in order to understand what are the real issues that they’re facing,” Kuzon told MiBiz. “As we bring our own solutions to bear — and also partner with others to make people’s lives better — (we want to ensure) they’re really grounded in the needs and experiences of people. That’s the goal.”
The eight-month City of Tomorrow Challenge pilot program will include a web portal for people to share their transportation experiences, and it includes a prize of up to $100,000 to pilot new technologies and solutions that bring about new mobility options.
A lack of transportation options in the region stands out as one of the city’s largest challenges and makes Ford’s selection of Grand Rapids all the more noteworthy, said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.
“Today it’s pretty easy to get from point A to point B by car in Grand Rapids,” Bliss said. “However, this is unfortunately not shared by everyone. Our transportation system today, as it is, lacks options, leaving too many of our residents’ mobility needs unmet. We hear this over and over in our community. This has a negative impact on both our local economy and our quality of live and needs to be better.”
Other partners in the City of Tomorrow Challenge include AT&T Inc., Dell Technologies Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Planet M, the state’s mobility initiative, as well as economic development organization The Right Place Inc. also are partners at the state and regional levels.
Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications for The Right Place, says employers in the area continue to struggle with connecting people to jobs in outlying areas not typically serviced by mass transit, as MiBiz previously reported.
“It’s about getting people to work,” Mroz said of the overall intent of the program, adding that while even in a pilot phase, economic spin-off could come down the road as a result of the city’s participation.
“At the end of the day, it is a pilot program, to put things in perspective,” Mroz said. “But it does mean it’s going to open up our region to a lot of new technology, a lot of awareness about what’s going on here. For us, we’re just as excited about what’s going to come after this as we are about the program itself.”