$100k in Funding Available for Mobility Solutions
The City of Tomorrow Challenge is focused on Re-Imagining Mobility for People
Ideas are great. Technology is great. But if those new ideas manifest as products and services that don’t serve a need, then why make them? This is a question our City of Tomorrow Challenge team thinks about daily as we partner with Pittsburgh, Miami-Dade, and Grand Rapids to host innovation challenges that place residents at the center of mobility design and crowdsource new solutions that address their needs and local context.
This question came to life for me at one of our recent community working sessions where I met Jonah, a college student who leads a number of student organizations and is an advocate for at-risk populations especially those with physical disabilities. For Jonah, who has a physical disability himself, meeting people is both the hardest and most important thing he does. The inability to make an appointment because of lack of infrastructure to transport him or attend community meetings due to rigidity in on-demand transit scheduling is a barrier to him living out his passion for helping people.
How can new mobility technology, data and design help Jonah? How can it help the many others we’ve talked to – such as Sarah, a researcher in Pittsburgh, and Daren a returning citizen? These are the questions we’ve posed to our challenge community, focused on three key opportunity areas:
- Enabling smarter (or simpler) transportation choices
- Extending mobility options
- Encouraging walking, biking and busing
Over the last three months, the City of Tomorrow Challenge Team has been working to learn those experiences and pain points. We are using an approach that is rooted in insight and is developed by focusing on everyday people’s mobility experiences. Creating a baseline understanding of the environment we aspire to serve through existing data sources like transit ridership, income, age and other demographics. To add context to those data points, ethnographic interviews with transit riders help explain some of the insights and trends in the data. Riding with them on the bus or train and listening to them in their homes gives an intimate view into deficiencies that the systems we all rely on have.
Using Analytics and Research to Understand a Narrative
- Use analytics to create a solid baseline of understanding of macro trends
- Have in-depth conversations with people who have mobility struggles
- Generate novel or innovative solutions that meet needs
At every step of the process we are thinking, learning and designing with and not just for the end user.
I don’t want to rely on my boyfriend for rides to my doctor’s appointments… if I’m just physically worn-out and I can’t, then I’ll call him
For example, the Challenge team interviewed a number of people in their homes. Some of the stories really illustrate how people’s daily lives can be affected so significantly by their lack of access to resilient transit. For example, in Pittsburgh, a transit rider named Amy was at the mercy of the public system. She doesn’t own a car and also does not have a credit card so ride hailing was not something she could do. Walking was also problematic has she has limited mobility/ health issues and lives in a very hilly area of Pittsburgh. She spoke of the anxiety she has when she would go out as she was always unsure of what the day had in store for her, including if the she could make it up the hill near her house to the bus.
During community working sessions in Grand Rapids we discovered that invisible barriers cause people mobility stressors and sometimes they cope in ways that is invisible to the outside. Disabilities can be defined in many ways. Lowering the stress of using mobility can help people focus on their personal needs not just how they’re getting around. Derek spoke to this as his wheelchair made trips take significantly longer that they would without. The fact that the system didn’t always support door to door service creates a new stressor for him as now he would need to leave over an hour early to get somewhere on time.
There are people that amaze me with how they get around. Unable to use legs, arms, use a mouth stick. People that are blind and going to work. Disabilities have so many different faces and it’s so subjective, what exactly that is. – Derek
Our application period is open and these opportunity areas are manifesting in ideas submitted by residents, businesses, and community organizations that can impact cities and residents within them who need a shift in the current state of mobility. In the next phase of the challenge, we will select 10-12 semi-finalists per city and work with them to refine their solutions into potential pilot projects before selecting the final team(s) to win up to $100k to bring their idea to life.
The City of Tomorrow Challenge is made possible through the support and coordination of these organizations.
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Depending on the employer’s location and employees’ needs, solutions may range from helping with last-mile transportation to the transit system, to developing on-demand vanpools, to establishing in-house carpool matching systems. The ROI calculator gives employers the ability to determine the break-even cost—the subsidy amount a company can manage without hurting the bottom line.
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I caught up recently with Sarah Charlton who is Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
The research she is leading, located in both Johannesburg, South Africa and Maputo, Mozambique, looks at the interface between the mobility use by residents and transportation investments by the state. The question guiding her research is “are ordinary households using the transport modes that the government is investing in and prioritizing?” The research is a partnership between two universities across two countries and two cities.
Sarah reflects on research during the pandemic across languages, countries, histories and cultures.