Ford Leverages Data to Optimize City Transit Systems

can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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Electric scooters, bikes, public transit and cars are in the midst of an awkward dance in the transportation cotillion. With the advancement of autonomous technology, there’s the hope of a more seamless co-existence by using data as the instructor.

  • Ford launched a pilot program for Ann Arbor, MI to use the company’s City Insights Platform to better manage its transportation networks.
  • In using the platform to analyze its whole transportation ecosystem, Ann Arbor city planners found that they didn’t need more parking infrastructure but better management of its current one.
  • With the City Insights Platform, Ford makes valuable tools available for cities to plan their future mobility needs, while also opening up a new and potentially very valuable revenue streams.

Data is the thread that can weave together the variety of different transit options into a coordinated whole. In an article on Medium, Brett Wheatley, Vice President, Mobility Marketing and Growth, Ford Motor Company, discusses how Ford partnered with Ann Arbor, Michigan to pilot its City Insights Platform.

Visualizing the mobility ecosystem

A suite of advanced software tools, the City Insights Platform allows cities to leverage parking, transit, traffic, safety and census data. More than just pie charts and numbers on a spreadsheet, the City Insights Platform provides a visualization of the mobility ecosystem as a whole. With the added visual component, city planners can explore the efficacy of various solutions through modeling before deciding on an action plan.

City planners in Ann Arbor, MI are using Ford’s City Insight Planner to analyze how best to integrate alleyways into its transportation network. (Photo: Ford)

To give the data dimension, Wheatley explains that Ford developed the City Insights Studio — a digital model concept of Ann Arbor built across six LCD screens and complete with miniature, 3D-printed buildings. In addition to visualizing transit accessibility by neighborhood, it can also display analytical insights and run simulations, providing a more complete picture to see how the city moves.

Since city data showed Ann Arbor growing by 11 percent per year, planners wanted to find out if its parking infrastructure was sufficient to keep traffic flowing smoothly throughout the city. They were able to get a comprehensive picture that included city and university-owned parking structures and street-side parking spaces — data that previously wasn’t aggregated in one place.

Using the City Insights Platform, city planners were able to visualize traffic flow during an average 24-hour period and see how existing parking infrastructure was utilized. They looked at factors such as whether people were looking for parking in garages, on the street or not at all, as they passed through downtown.

Analyzing before investing

Before the analysis, the city thought it needed to build out more parking. What the data modeling showed was that it wasn’t insufficient parking that was the problem. If access to parking were easier and drivers could be informed of available spots, that would provide an alternate solution — a much less expensive one than building out more infrastructure.

Although Ann Arbor has yet to figure out how to meet the parking challenge, it has avoided spending city dollars for something that’s unnecessary. “You can just imagine how cities considering these types of big-budget questions can improve their decision-making with this kind of analysis,” Wheatley points out.

Ford’s City Insights Planner gives city planners a visualization of the mobility ecosystem, allowing them to explore different solutions before implementation. (Photo: Ford)

In another interesting application, Ann Arbor officials used the City Insights Platform to study alleyways. A thoroughfare for pedestrians, residents, delivery trucks and city service vehicles, they can get pretty congested, costing time, money and aggravation. Ford’s researchers installed sensors in some alleyways to gather data about how they were being used, by whom, and at what times. With access to this data, planners can now plan how to best integrate alleyways into the transportation infrastructure, saving money and increasing efficiency and safety.

Unlocking the power of data

Data is a valuable commodity, made even more so when it comes with the tools to unlock its power. The City Insights Planner claims to do both. If it operates as advertised, Ford will have opened up a potentially very lucrative revenue stream. Ford says that while it is investigating commercialization opportunities, its main focus for the City Insights Platform is to partner with cities to co-analyze transportation challenges so they can better plan for the future.

Funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation via a grant, the project brought together the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, the Downtown Development Authority and Ann Arbor SPARK, as well as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to figure out how to synch up the data, while maintaining privacy. Ford gathered data from its connected vehicles on the road in Ann Arbor, the city and university for parking data, and public sources such as government crash statistics and safety studies.

After the successful pilot in Ann Arbor, Ford will roll out the City Insights Planner to six more U.S. cities, including Austin, Texas, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

WHY THIS MATTERS

If cities continue to show great benefits from the City Insights platform, Ford could leverage its mobility services into a real moneymaker — one that could potentially eclipse their vehicle business, and truly transform them from an automaker to a mobility company.


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can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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