U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced at a summit in Washington D.C. several efforts by the U.S. DOT to improve mobility, among them a four-year, $40 million program to help develop more “comprehensive, seamless, and efficient transportation solutions.” Chao stated that the goal of these new programs is “increased mobility access” for older adults, people with disabilities, and those living in “underserved communities” in rural and small urban areas.
“We’re here today to ensure that the revolutionary new technologies being developed will help create a more inclusive transportation system for everyone,” Chao said during a speech at the agency’s 2019 Access and Mobility for All Summit, held at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.
The U.S. DOT plans to focus on “three pillars” in its new approach to boosting mobility access and inclusion: incentivizing new vehicle technologies; increasing mobility services; and helping to make inclusive transportation options more affordable. As a first step, the agency has ramped up interagency access and mobility processes with the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility to put together a new strategic plan to guide a total of 11 federal agencies in developing recommendations to improve accessibility and inclusion. The resulting recommendations are targeted to be submitted to President Trump by Sept. 30, 2020.
The DOT also plans to hold workshops later this year to discuss its new four-year, $40 million Complete Trip Deployment Program, with a goal of enabling people to travel independently from one point to another, regardless of the number of connections, transfers or modes of transportation via a greater selection of more “holistic” mobility approaches. The department is also launching a new “Inclusive Design Challenge” that will offer $5 million in prizes for developing transportation solutions that increase the availability and decrease cost of technologies that improve the accessibility of light-duty passenger vehicles.
“A special focus of this program will be attracting the best and brightest talent in academia and the private sector to work together on fully-inclusive AV [autonomous vehicle] designs that can be deployed in the marketplace at reasonable cost,” Chao said.
Finally, the department is providing $3.5 million in funding opportunities for state transit agencies to implement the Mobility for All Pilot Program. This will be a Federal Transit Administration-led program to, according to Chao, “help communities identify gaps in current transit services, and provide accessibility solutions for underserved populations, especially in rural and small urban areas.” Awards will be made next April.