How people get from point A to point B isn’t the same as it was 100 years ago, and it won’t be the same 100 years from now. We’re witnessing the change now. The transportation paradigm is in flux due to broad societal shifts in how people, businesses, and governments think about sustainability and productivity, and, as technology advances, it opens new doors for things like electric and autonomous vehicles. Mobility as we know it today isn’t inclusive. A new mobility ecosystem has the potential to solve issues present in the current ecosystem, leading to, as Deloitte puts it, “faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer, more efficient, and more customized travel.”

A Deloitte analysis of the future of mobility post-COVID-19 poses several fundamental questions the sector will be grappling with in 2021 and beyond. For instance, the pandemic has the industry wondering how COVID-19 will change individual attitudes and behaviors—and for how long. Also, will the transportation industry be held to higher sanitation standards in the future, or just right now? And, given the seismic shift toward remote work to enforce social distancing and the limits on travel beyond essential activities, how many trips will be permanently deferred or replaced by remote alternatives? Further, will public transit rebound, and how long will it take?

Accessibility was a trend in the transportation space pre-COVID-19, so where does the pandemic leave this market? In January 2020, Reports and Data released a report suggesting the vehicles for disabled market could reach $5.13 billion by 2026, up from $2.43 billion in 2018. The report pointed to contributing growth factors such as ride-sharing companies’ interest in exploring and introducing WAV (wheelchair-accessible vehicle) services. In the wake of what’s changed in the past 12 months, it’s not clear what will happen to shared mobility in general. Cash-strapped companies and governments will need to be increasingly careful what they invest in. A quandary, therefore, is funding. How and in what ways will mobility startups and mobility innovation be affected by the economic downturn?

The U.S. DOT (Dept. of Transportation) at least is proving it is still investing in the future of mobility. Last year, the department announced and accepted submissions for its Inclusive Design Challenge, designed to accelerate innovative solutions that enable people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to use automated vehicles to access jobs, healthcare, and other critical destinations. The DOT announced its 10 semifinalists earlier this month. Semifinalists include AbleLink, which is developing a WayFinder ADS (automated driving system) app that can support access to ADS-DVs (ADS-dedicated vehicles) for individuals with special needs, and the collaborative May Mobility and University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute team, which is designing an automated solution for loading wheelchairs into AVs (autonomous vehicles) and automatically putting on the traveler’s seatbelt.

Each semifinalist has been awarded $300,000 to further develop their solutions leading up to the next stage of the competition. The DOT has also published a draft of its Strategic Plan on Accessible Transportation, which is available for public review and comment until February 16. While the COVID-19 pandemic’s short and long-term impacts on the future of mobility aren’t yet clear, the DOT’s efforts to continue to support innovation in this critical sector are encouraging.

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