In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced $15 million in research funds would be made available through a new Integrated Mobility Innovation Demonstration Program. With the goal of improving mobility across the country, the program is designed to award funds to innovative programs in automation applications, service models, and payment systems. In a time when transportation paradigms are rapidly shifting, these grant mechanisms will help public transit providers develop new and exciting technologies to assist their customers in achieving more seamless trips.
In the past, such demonstration programs have been known in academic and policy circles as the “FTA Sandbox.” A new grant opportunity is now on the street, as part of what the agency is calling “Sandbox 2.0,” with an application deadline of August 6, 2019 (www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=315743). These programs are important as they represent the future of mobility, and, if successful, could form the basis for massive expenditure of federal funds during the next Congressional reauthorization on transportation spending.
During Sandbox 1.0, mostly new mobility companies took advantage of the numerous pilot programs underway around the U.S., which involve public-private partnerships between mobility providers, technology companies, Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) and public transit agencies. However, the incumbent taxicab and for-hire vehicle industry has been noticeably absent from such endeavors – and many are eligible to partner with transit agencies and apply for mobility projects that include “first and last mile” shared mobility, the use of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) service to supplement or replace public paratransit services, and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) platforms that marry public and private multi-modal services.
If you are interested in learning more about the Sandbox 2.0 grant opportunity, including how to participate or partner with public transit agencies or others to submit a bid, please contact me at [email protected]or at 212-237-1106.
The First FTA Sandbox Program
The 2016 Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox program (www.transit.dot.gov/research-innovation/mobility-demand-mod-sandbox-program) initially offered an opportunity for transit providers to form partnerships with mobility providers, technology suppliers, and others to demonstrate new concepts and solutions to deliver innovative mobility options in an every-day real world setting. The eleven winning demonstration projects in the 2016 program continue to help the FTA and state and local jurisdictions learn how to approach MOD-related policies and identify promising technologies and business models. The new Sandbox 2.0 grant opportunity similarly solicits projects that build upon the existing knowledge base of the 2016 Sandbox program, with the goal of advancing the state of transportation and continuing to test models across rural, suburban, and urban settings.
Examples of 2016 Sandbox Projects. Source: https://www.transit.dot.gov/research-innovation/fiscal-year-2016-mobility-demand-mod-sandbox-program-projects
FTA Sandbox 2.0: The Current Integrated Mobility Innovation Grant Competition
Since the last sandbox evaluation, MOD has continued to evolve. A growing number of transit agencies and communities have partnered with private mobility providers to integrate new mobility options into public transit. Agencies are transforming their operations and business practices to better meet passenger needs with new or enhanced services, including new trip planning tools and apps, on-demand bus and micro-transit options, and other flexible service models. To continue this wave of transformation, the current Integrated Mobility Innovation program has three distinct funding priorities: (1) MOD, (2) mobility payment integration, and (3) strategic transit automation research. Interested agencies can propose projects in one or multiple areas.
The new MOD program will make $8 million available in funding to improve mobility through a traveler-centric approach that continues to leverage innovations in technologies, service methods, and business models. Building on FTA’s initial 2016 demonstrations, this program provides a venue for integrated MOD concepts and solutions supported through local partnerships. Specific attention will be paid to projects that improve mobility for those with limited transportation choices; provide first-mile/last-mile connections to transit hubs; and involve targeted approaches to data sharing and collection that can be reproduced.
Key MOD Sandbox Demonstration Areas – For Sandbox 2.0
Travel Linkages:Projects that enhance linking travelers to transit stations and transportation hubs (first mile/last mile) and enable travelers to access existing transportation resources and increase personal mobility. This can include improved trip planning and payment mechanisms; new service models for linking travelers to transit stations and transportation hubs; and partnerships and approaches that provide new or expanded options for traveler linkages.
MOD Accessibility Modes:Projects that explore new MOD accessibility models, approaches, and technologies, especially those that increase access to transportation choices for older Americans, school-aged populations traveling independently, persons with disabilities, or other individuals with limited ability to access existing public transit.
Data Sharing & Collection Methods:Projects that provide innovative approaches to data sharing arrangements and data collection methods, enabling increased understanding of impacts to travelers and the community. “Innovative” approaches include projects that provide open data platforms, open source technologies, and data sharing agreements that allow public and controlled access to project data. Innovative approaches can also include collecting relevant project data to understand MOD impacts, such as crowdsourcing information and incentive-based participation in data collection efforts.
How to Participate in FTA Sandbox 2.0?
Anyone wishing to apply to the new MOD Sandbox demonstration project will need to do so through the Grants.gov website by 11:59 pm EST on August 6, 2019. Eligible applicants include public transportation providers, which can include state and local DOTs, public transportation agencies, and federally recognized Indian tribes.
Rules and regulations are explained in FTA’s Shared Mobility Frequently Asked Questions document at www.transit.dot.gov/shared-mobility, with further information available at www.transit.dot.gov/funding/applying/notices-funding/integrated-mobility-innovation-demonstration-program-notice-funding.
Innovations may require new federal guidelines or changes to existing regulations or policies, and applicants are encouraged to identify any regulatory or policy challenges they expect to encounter in the implementation of their proposed demonstration. Requests will be reviewed as part of the application process and used to help FTA understand barriers to implementing MOD demonstrations.