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Detroit’s Mobility Project Is a Model for Public-Private Innovation

The Motor City is driving innovation in the new ways we navigate the urban spaces where we work and live. In Project Kinetic, a unique collaboration of public agencies, companies, and philanthropies spearheaded by BCG are working together to design, fund, and implement truly innovative mobility solutions. In the process, the coalition is developing new approaches to mobility that will help define the future of cities. 

During a 12-week “innovation sprint” in early 2018, the partners brainstormed more than 100 ideas for tackling the mobility challenges facing Detroit. The options were whittled down to six promising projects that are slated to run as pilots over the next 12 months. They range from a revolutionary approach to car sharing to dynamically-scheduled public transportation.

This role as innovator is a natural fit for Detroit, given its roots in the automobile industry and renewed creative energy that’s driving economic and cultural growth. As Detroit moves ahead, it is grappling with a problem that is plaguing other cities as well: mobility can limit residents’ access to jobs, health care, education, and civic activities. 

The novel public-private model that BCG organized helped to marshal Detroit’s resources to pursue creative solutions, but can equally be extended to other metropolitan areas.

A New Way of Partnering

The BCG approach is grounded in the belief that highly effective public-private initiatives require far more than getting people together to talk over a problem and put possible plans down on paper. Partners must be selected carefully to bring specific and complementary expertise covering the full mobility ecosystem to the table. City and state agencies, for example, can remove roadblocks and get pilots to market faster, while businesses bring a combination of knowledge, technology, capabilities, and resources. 

Each side has to be able to see clear benefits from collaborating so that they’ll “put skin in the game.” For companies, this can be an opportunity to boost their own local businesses and access to untapped, local talent. Successful projects also promise to provide a direct boost to a company’s ability to influence mobility in Detroit and put technology and strategies in play that are being developed internally. For the city government, participating can help its citizens gain access to better jobs, health care services, and educational opportunities, and reduce congestion. 

Working closely with Detroit’s already existing Office of Mobility Innovation and project sponsors, the City of Detroit and PlanetM (the mobility arm of the State of Michigan), BCG and BCG Digital Ventures recruited a lineup of partners that reflects the ecosystem of the targeted mobility issues. Corporate team members include General Motors, one of the world’s leading automotive companies; Lear Corporation, an automotive supplier of advanced automotive & mobility technology; DTE Energy, the local electric utility company essential to providing infrastructure for electric vehicle charging infrastructure; Quicken Loans, Bedrock, one of the city’s largest employers and real estate developers, and the philanthropy, the New Economic Initiative (NEI).

The Innovation Sprint

Once assembled, the group launched what BCG calls a 12-week innovation sprint. The sprint is a rigorous process designed and managed by BCG and BCG Digital Ventures to identify the most critical mobility issues and to come up with solutions for testing. 

Drawing on the partners’ experience and interviews with Detroiters, commuters, and mobility experts, the initiative pinpointed four key areas of friction affecting mobility in the city: 

  • Neighborhood Mobility. Improve mobility for Detroit residents who live in lower-density areas and use public transit to travel to work and health care. 
  • Downtown Accessibility. Improve traffic conditions and parking offerings for Detroit residents and employees who commute to the city for work or events. 
  • Electric Vehicle Utilization & Education. Optimize the use of EV infrastructure and educate Detroit residents and visitors about EV technologies. 
  • Traffic Safety. Build a technology infrastructure that reduces the number of traffic fatalities for Detroit pedestrians, bikers, drivers, and riders. 

Using these insights, the initiative generated more than 120 ideas. Then in 3 distinct, fast-paced sprints, the team filtered those ideas. Unlike projects at other cities that could take years to implement, the team focused on picking solutions that weren’t just cutting edge, but that could be implemented in the next 12 months. 

The selections had to meet the following criteria: 

  • Desirability. Does the concept solve a clear, compelling mobility friction for Detroit residents and employees? 
  • Viability. Could the concept sustain itself financially over the long term? 
  • Feasibility. Is the concept achievable with today's technological capabilities? And can it be implemented within 12 months?

Picking the Winners

The team studied and screened the concepts, settling on six cutting-edge, data-driven mobility initiatives to roll out as pilots: 

  1. A traffic management system that gives top priority to public transit vehicles at intersections. This idea was fast-tracked, progressing from concept to pilot implementation in just four months in early 2018. 
  2. A revolutionary car-sharing program. The program would improve accessibility to on-demand mobility by giving Detroiters low-cost access to cars through features that encourage responsible driving—lowering insurance and operating costs. 
  3. A new transportation solution that would dynamically route shuttles and buses based on real-time demand for rides. The system would drastically improve the transit experience, creating more direct routes and reducing the number of stops and transit time. Commutes that today could take up to 2 hours could be cut to a quarter of that time using this solution. 
  4. A comprehensive parking platform that would integrate dynamic pricing with a perks program. It would help Detroiters find parking more quickly and at lower prices. Plus, the app would be designed to help reduce congestion and direct drivers to open garages by offering incentives to people willing to park further from the city center on busy days. These perks would also foster economic development by routing pedestrian traffic to local businesses between parking structures and the drivers’ destinations. 
  5. A public space in the heart of Detroit that would allow people to meet and socialize while charging their EVs or learning about EV benefits. The charging space would become a showcase for other state-of-the-art automotive and mobility technologies as well. 
  6. A data management system called Central Traffic Intelligence. CTI would pull together big data in real time from infrastructure, vehicle, and mobile device sources to provide the foundation for developing additional concepts.

Next Steps

The pilots will be run in select areas of Detroit and along certain bus routes. As the pilots move ahead during the next 12 months, teams will test the viability of the services with the objective of scaling them more broadly throughout the city. 

The initiative’s board has continued to be engaged and is being used to guide the pilots to launch.

A Roadmap for Public-Private Innovation

While the direct impact of Project Kinetic will become clear only once the pilots get underway, the exercise has already proven how successful BCG’s unique model can be. The team built a dynamic public-private partnership and quickly generated solutions to mobility challenges. The participants can also take their process learnings back to their companies or other cities to apply the approach there. 

The model creates a roadmap other cities can use in building meaningful coalitions of companies and public agencies whose respective skills, capabilities, and resources make it possible to move speedily from innovation to impact. For instance, while some bike-sharing projects in other cities took years to put in place, the innovative ideas in Detroit could go from drawing board to pilot in as soon as six months. 

The BCG model also helps to shape mobility solutions that address a region’s unique challenges and opportunities, rather than simply adopting generic programs. For example, Detroit does not have a public transit subway or underground, but an innovative flexible bus system would radically change Detroit’s transportation landscape. 

The full impact of BCG’s model will play out as more and more cities adopt this rigorous, accelerated, and effective approach to public-private mobility solutions.

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