Michigan, the cradle of the American automotive industry, has made no secret of its desire to remain an industry leader in mobility as the industry continues to evolve.  On May 30, 2018, Michigan announced a new $8 Million Michigan Mobility Challenge grant that would be available to fund new mobility projects across the state.  The “mobility industry” is a term of art, the exact definition of which often depends on who is being asked.  Generally speaking, the term is used to refer to a variety of products and services involved in the business of how people get around, including everything from traditional automotive manufacturers, to ride hailing apps, to autonomous public transportation.

The Michigan Mobility Challenge grant follows on the heels of other recent actions by the state to position itself as a destination for the next generation of mobility industry companies.  Among other things, Michigan has enacted legislation to allow autonomous vehicles on its roads, revised the regulatory framework applicable to ride hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, and approved tens of millions of dollars in funding for the new American Center for Mobility, a 500-acre proving ground for driverless cars and other new technologies.

In its latest initiative, Michigan is making available $8 million in grant funding for pilot mobility projects aimed at filling unmet needs in the current transportation system.  Specifically, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is looking for mobility solutions that target issues facing seniors, persons with disabilities, and veterans.  MDOT is looking to fund a diverse portfolio of pilot projects that it hopes can give rise to financially sustainable services after the pilot phase is complete.  Grants awarded under the program are intended to fund only part of the project during the pilot phase, with MDOT expecting the balance to come from other funding sources (including fares).

Proposals will be scored by MDOT (with input from various other agencies) in the first instance on a variety of factors, including: (1) clarity of the mobility gaps that they are intended to address; (2) innovation; (3) methods for recruiting/supporting the targeted population; (4) financial sustainability of the service after the demonstration period; (5) coordination efforts among different mobility partners; (6) utilization of existing transportation networks; (7) evaluation and plan/metrics; (8) capacity and experience of the proposal team; and (9) overall completeness and quality of the proposal.

For those proposals that make it through to the second round, final selections will be made based on MDOT’s desire for diversity in the mobility options and technologies that will be used, as well as diversity in the geographic areas and populations targeted by the proposal.  MDOT’s desire to fund multiple projects also means that the funding available for any given project will be limited.  In its Call for Projects, MDOT notes that it does “not envision funding multiple projects over a million dollars each.”

Anyone interested in submitting a proposal for consideration will have to act fast.  Proposals for projects are due by July 16, 2018.  Instructions and details regarding the program are available on the MDOT website.