Although a seemingly basic transportation proposal has an important position on the ballot this November, its passage has the potential to give a much longer runway of economic opportunity to business leaders and public officials.
On Nov. 8, voters in Oakland, Wayne, Ma- comb, and Washtenaw counties will be asked to approve a 1.2 mill property tax increase that will raise $3 billion, which is to be matched by $1.7 billion in federal and state funds, for a regional public transit system. The annual millage equates to $120 in additional taxes for a home appraised at $200,000.
Under the plan, rapid bus routes with multiple stops would run along four regional avenues — Woodward, Gratiot, Michigan, and Washtenaw — and connect downtown Detroit to Pontiac, M-59, and Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The Washtenaw line would connect Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
In turn, the service would include multiple feeder buses called cross-county connectors, as well as public buses, to link the new transit routes. A rush hour express service and an airport express service with limited stops are also part of the plan.
The buses would connect with the QLINE light rail service, which is scheduled to begin operations in early 2017 and will run on Woodward Avenue between downtown Detroit and New Center, and an existing rail line used by Amtrak that goes from Pontiac to Birmingham, Royal Oak, New Center, Dear- born, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor.
That’s a lot of mobility options.
What’s lacking in the plan, though, is the utilization of emerging autonomous technology for buses, trains, cars, and trucks. The drawback shouldn’t keep voters from approving the plan, but it’s a shame the proposal fails to tap the region’s talent base of engineers (metro Detroit has the largest concentration of engineers in the country) to boost safety and efficiency in the public transportation industry.
The connected vehicle technology that exists today utilizes on-board sensors to alert vehicles (not drivers) of an impending collision, and respond to it accordingly. It’s available on luxury vehicles, and could be installed as a kit in existing cars, trucks, buses, and trains.
Known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology, cars equipped with small sensors also know the traffic conditions and alert drivers to the quickest route to their destination. What’s more, venture capital firms like Fontinalis Partners in Detroit offer technology that can find the nearest open urban parking spot by sending an alert to a smartphone.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and co-founder and a partner of Fontinalis, summed up V2V: “All vehicles will be talking to each other, all vehicles will be talking to the infrastructure. Everything will be on a single network,” he says. “Everything will be integrated, and your ability to move from point A to point B will be greatly enhanced.”
Another area the public transit plan overlooks is opportunities in future air travel. The same sensors used in ground vehicles are al- ready in use on aircraft.
By integrating V2V between ground and air vehicles, VTOL aircraft (vertical takeoff and landing) can pick up cars, small trucks, and cargo containers from any airport and deliver them to another airport, an open area, or a remote location. While such service is a ways into the future, visionaries like Ford’s great-grandfather, Henry Ford, saw the opportunity in 1928.
“Mark my word: A combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”
— R.J. King, firstname.lastname@example.org