Ford wants to know how you'd fix Miami's traffic woes. There's $100,000 for the best idea

Ford is doubling down on Miami as a testbed for its future-of-transit programs.
Ford is doubling down on Miami as a testbed for its future-of-transit programs. Ford

You may have given up on any hope of solving Miami's endless traffic woes. But one American auto giant has not.

Ford announced Wednesday it has chosen Miami-Dade as the second destination for its "City of Tomorrow Challenge" (yes, in this case it should be "county") with the goal of soliciting complaints from residents, along with suggestions about how to solve Miami's profound traffic problems.

The Challenge will encourage residents to register their local travel concerns via an online portal. Over the next few weeks, Ford will hold a series of discussions about the information it has gathered. The most promising solution proposed will be backed with a $100,000 grant from Ford, AT&T, Dell, and Microsoft, which are co-sponsoring the program.

If you think the last thing Miami needs is more traffic talk, program director John Kwant, Ford's Vice President for City Solutions, understands. Even he was skeptical when Ford rolled out early versions of the Challenge program in Detroit and New York.

"But when I saw the community engagement piece, I flipped," he said. "I saw how powerful it was, when you're talking to residents about mobility challenges, when we got people together, what it provides; it's almost at a focus group level. You learn what the real issues are."

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez could not be reached for comment in advance of the formal announcement.

Kwant said the Challenge can help "provide cover" for elected officials to push through solutions that may otherwise face political opposition.

"In the past couple years we've seen the growth of microtransit," he said. "Instead of large buses transporting 40 people, we're seeing transit in combination with smaller vans. Or maybe you use Uber and Lyft to augment what’s already there."

PIttsburgh was the first city chosen by Ford for the Challenge. When that announcement came last week, Pittsburgh's director of mobility and infrastructure said that hiring a team of experts to gather the type of information that will come from the project would have likely cost at least $1 million and taken as long as two years.

So what does Ford get out of it?

The automaker says it's doubling down on Dade as a test-bed for the future of transit. This week, Ford is also announcing the second leg of its driverless car program. The first involved pizza delivery with Domino's. This time, Ford is partnering with delivery service Postmates, along with more than 70 restaurants and other local businesses, to test response to deliveries by robotic, driverless cars. (For now, the cars will still have safety backup in the form of human drivers.)

As part of Ford’s ongoing experiment with self-driving cars in Miami, the automaker has partnered with Domino’s to test a basic American use case: pizza delivery.

"These businesses are already growing quickly by using on-demand service to reach new customers, and they’re interested in learning how self-driving vehicles can play a role in their future as well," Ford said in a statement.

Ford has already set up a driverless car terminal in Wynwood, where about two-dozen Ford employees are working on the autonomous vehicle program. A company spokeswoman said the terminal will continue to grow over time as it expands operations.

But the auto maker, which has already announced it will discontinue selling sedans and small cars, finds itself staring down a future in which transit is being radically altered, Kwant said. It sees this project as getting ahead of the issue.

"This might sound radical, but as more people populate the planet and move to cities, not everyone will be able to own a car," Kwant said. "Transportation will grow in an increasingly autonomous and connected way."

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