There seems to an increased level of interest for addressing the mass transit needs in Metro Detroit, the area is certainly lacking in reliable mass transit options. We are the Motor City, but are we looking at the right options? We need a 21st century approach to our mass transit needs, not a dated 20th century solution.
Mass Transit in Metro Detroit Today
Southeast Michigan certainly lacks a quality mass transit system that connects Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb Counties. We are the only major urban area in the country without a viable system. I believe it will be critical for the growth of the economic region to have a quality system that provides affordable and reliable transportation throughout the region. Right now, the discussion and focus is on light rail, additional bus routes and other solutions that have served other large metro areas very well.
I believe we need to think bigger and have our eye on the future, not just on what has worked in the past. We may need some investments in buses and light rail, but are we missing the bigger opportunity if that is all that is on the table? Here are some ideas that would advance the discussion into the 21st century, and have us start planning now for a future that is almost here:
- Smart Roads – How about taking an extra step with all our road infrastructure and begin planning for smart roads that embed sensors to interact with vehicles on the road? A pilot program along some major routes in the metro area would be a great place to begin. Partnerships with one or all of the big three on enabling cars to talk to the smart roads about traffic conditions, road conditions, etc. would be very helpful.
- Autonomous Buses – How about a commitment to bus routes with driverless buses and real-time communication on routes, status, arrival times via a mobile app? Forget a light rail up and down Woodward, how about smart buses connected to smart roads and infrastructure to travel up and down Woodward?
- Autonomous Cars – Detroit needs to be first with self-driving ride-sharing services. Even getting started with some areas connecting to other mass transit systems would be fantastic and address the flexibility people need to get around Metro Detroit. Create a partnership with GM, FCA and Ford to each have their own driverless ride-sharing programs in different parts of the region. Imagine requesting a smart driverless car from your mobile phone to get you to a stop on Woodward so you can jump on a driverless bus to catch the Tiger’s game downtown.
- Autonomous Vehicle Lane (AVL) – I-75 is undergoing major reconstruction and a new lane will be added — a High Occupancy Lane (HOV). You know, the lane that just about every other city has had for years and this will not even be done in Detroit until 2030? How different will our transportation capabilities be in 14 years? Plans should be in place today to enable a lane that will quickly and easily transition to be an AVL. I get credit for that acronym — you’ve read about it here first!
We need to stop thinking and planning with solutions that other cities have used to solve transportation challenges in metro areas for years. It is 2016 and we are just four years away from 2020! We should have flying cars by now, but if we can’t make that happen, let’s at least plan and start piloting smart cars and smart roads that talk to one another. Connect smart, driverless cars and buses with our mobile phones to get around the region. We need to continue to be a leader in the automotive space, even as it shifts with exciting new technology and capabilities. Even Columbus, Ohio, is launching driverless shuttles! How can we let the Buckeyes outdo us?
We need business and technology leaders working with the State of Michigan and local government throughout Southeast Michigan to define a mass transit system for our future. The Regional Transit Authority needs to focus on new technology that is evolving today and planning for a smarter, more connected transportation system. Our future depends on it.