The mobility challenges cities face can be relatively small, like addressing congestion in an alley; or big, like building connected vehicle infrastructure between multiple communities. Ford is aiming to help municipalities solve both kinds of problems, and those in between, with their City Solutions team.
The City Solutions team is comprised of specialist mobility strategists who work directly with government and other local stakeholders in communities across the U.S.
"We're really trying to work closely with cities to understand what their mobility needs are and then help them create and fine-tune the mobility products and services that serve them best," says Angela Ayers, Michigan mobility strategist for City Solutions.
Since City Solutions was established in 2016, it's already done some remarkable work in southeast Michigan. In Ann Arbor, City Solutions worked with local stakeholders to co-create the City Insights Platform, which uses aggregated data ranging from police reports to parking garage usage statistics to create simulations of various mobility solutions.
In one simulation, the platform was used to simulate how the implementation of a public shuttle service might impact congestion and parking issues in downtown Ann Arbor. (The answer: it reduces congestion by 6%, and frees up eight to 10 parking spots for each shuttle deployed.) The city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Ann Arbor SPARK, the University of Michigan, and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority all collaborated on the project, which City Solutions turned over to them at the end of last month.
In another example, City Solutions created a digital simulation of an alleyway for the city of Ann Arbor, based on the real-life pedestrian and vehicle traffic that moved through an actual alley.
"While alleyways are not necessarily the most exciting initial first things people think of when it comes to the future of transportation, Ann Arbor told us that if we can figure out how to orchestrate transportation issues within an alleyway, it will lead to a lot of learnings that can apply to the entire city," Ayers says.
City Solutions is also working on a variety of projects in partnership with the city of Detroit. It's piloting the City Insights Platform there, as well as testing charging stations for Spin scooters. Perhaps most excitingly for Detroit drivers, a new City Solutions pilot is equipping 50 city vehicles with modems that can autonomously detect potholes and other road defects as municipal staff drive around the city. Ayers envisions a future in which all city vehicles could be similarly equipped.
"It's something they don't have to proactively go out and do," Ayers says. "The data is just coming in. Then the city could have this software set that shows a map of road conditions and eventually maybe even detects the potholes in real time."
Looking to the bigger picture, City Solutions is also heavily involved in the reconstruction of Michigan Central Station. Only half of the people who work at the station are expected to be Ford employees, so Ayers and her fellow City Solutions team members are strategizing on how to build a larger mobility ecosystem around the campus.
For all City Solutions has gotten done in less than three years, it's just getting started. Ayers says collaborating with regional stakeholders to create simple, data-driven solutions is a key piece of Ford's overall vision for its role in the future of mobility.
"Clearly, we're not just making cars anymore," she says. "Ford is taking this comprehensive approach to how we look at mobility. We really see our partnership with cities as a cornerstone of this approach."