BY SHERYL GROSS-GLASER

What You Should Know About the USDOT Automated Vehicles Demonstration Grants

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The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has announced the availability of Automated Driving System Demonstration Grants, which it will be employing as a path to innovate and improve mobility for transportation-challenged populations, specifically mentioning older adults, people with disabilities, and rural residents. The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) shows that the USDOT is putting real force behind the many words of leadership in the past two years that automated vehicles (AVs) will bring mobility and independence to older adults and people with disabilities. 

In keeping with the CTAA’s AV Principles, the NOFO seeks applications that express “early and consistent stakeholder engagement, including early coordination with law enforcement, local public agencies, industry, transportation-challenged populations, the public, and other relevant stakeholders as applicable to conduct these demonstrations on terms that work for all parties.”

Funding Available

What the NOFO does not mention is how many grantees will receive funding or the amounts of the awards. The NOFO merely states that up to $60 million for funding will be available for “demonstration grants that test the safe integration of automated driving systems into the Nation’s on-road transportation system.”

Deadline: Please note that applications, including supporting documentation and letters of support, are due by Mar. 21, 2019.

CTAA members are the most knowledgeable organizations and agencies in the country about transportation challenges, the most capable of designing solutions for transportation-challenged populations, and the most creative designers of such solutions. As we enter the next phase of our transportation system, CTAA members are uniquely situated to craft solutions to ensure that AV transit and transportation services will improve mobility for the passengers and populations whom we care for every day. While CTAA members are not generally technology experts, they are important partners for realizing this NOFO’s goals.

Who is eligible to apply?

The following entities are eligible to be lead applicants.

  • State and local governments,
  • Tribal governments,
  • Transit agencies and authorities,
  • Metropolitan planning organizations,
  • Multijurisdictional groups (including at least two otherwise eligible applicants, with one designated as the lead applicant),
  • Public academic institutions, and
  • Public research institutions

Lead applicants are encouraged to partner with other entities (public, non-profit, or private), such as transit.

Private companies and private universities are specifically mentioned as ineligible to be lead applicants[1]. These entities, however, are permitted to be sub-recipients or subcontractors.

[1] The restriction to public universities and research institution is significant limitations because many of the leading academic institutions, at this point, for AV research and start-ups are private universities, in particular such institutions as Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford, MIT, and CalTech. Private companies, large and small, have thus far been the drivers of research and testing. The car companies, Waymo, Uber, and others have already invested billions of dollars. The NOFO makes clear that this grant program is focused elsewhere and that while these entities may participate as partners, they will not be allowed to lead proposed project teams.

Why CTAA Members Should Apply

Collaboration, innovation, and serving the riders of CTAA members are the USDOT’s priorities. Indeed, listed along with safety and data collection, collaboration is a prime goal. “This program seeks to work with innovative State and local governments, as well as universities and private partners, to create collaborative environments that harness the collective expertise, ingenuity, and knowledge of multiple stakeholders.” Translation: Any eligible applicant is welcome to work with complementary entities of any kind to craft innovative – meaning new – and imaginative ideas for AV demonstrations.

CTAA members are the most knowledgeable organizations and agencies in the country about transportation challenges, the most capable of designing solutions for transportation-challenged populations, and the most creative designers of such solutions. As we enter the next phase of our transportation system, CTAA members are uniquely situated to craft solutions to ensure that AV transit and transportation services will improve mobility for the passengers and populations whom we care for every day. While CTAA members are not generally technology experts, they are important partners for realizing this NOFO’s goals.

Welcome Solutions for Disability Challenges

The NOFO’s language about accessible interfaces shows that the USDOT is seeking solutions for challenges posed by visual, auditory, and cognitive disabilities and that leadership is attentive to the reality that transportation-vulnerable populations of people with disabilities and older adults extend beyond people who use wheelchairs. Specifically, the NOFO requires that “[e]ach demonstration must include input/output user interfaces on the ADS [automated driving system] and related applications that are accessible and allow users with varied abilities to input a new destination or communicate route information and to access information generated by the ADS.”

The NOFO declares that “[t]he USDOT intends to fund projects that test applications with the greatest potential to service transportation-challenged populations, including older adults and individuals with disabilities.”

USDOT Seeks to Address Connection Between Transportation and Economic Well-Being

The NOFO selection criteria include such factors as “addressing market failure and other compelling public needs” (capitalization omitted). Other focus areas include, but are not limited to, transportation for people with disabilities and economic vitality.

The USDOT is also looking for a diversity of projects, particularly ones that would be replicable for easy adoption and adaptation beyond a given geographic demonstration grant area. “The USDOT intends to fund a collection of projects that serve a variety of communities, including urban, suburban, and rural environments, and that serve a variety of transportation markets including freight, personal mobility, and public transportation.”

One caveat is that the USDOT is encouraging cost sharing and matching; these extra funds “will be considered in the award selection process.”

Please refer below for links to the NOFO and for resources that would be useful for developing AV demo project ideas.

Contact: Sheryl Gross-Glaser at grossglaser@ctaa.org to discuss any of your thoughts or concerns.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.