Technical Assistance Site Visit by Charlie Rutkowski to Grand Rapids, Minn. and Hertel, Wis.
During CTAA’s EXPO in Oklahoma City, our Transit Planning 4 All program hosted a team of individuals from Grand Rapids, Minn., at the Transportation Accessibility Institute. Grand Rapids is the site of a an autonomous vehicle demonstration operated by May Mobility. The Grand Rapids team requested follow up technical assistance from CTAA to help identify supplemental funding and collaboration partners. I visited Grand Rapids and met with several team members and a provided guidance on accessing possible assistance from FTA, ACL, Developmental Disabilities Councils, University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, and the National Disabilities Rights Organization.
During my visit I also rode the GoMarti (Minnesota’s Autonomous Rural Transit Initiative) autonomous vehicle. GoMarti operates five vehicles in a demand responsive real time checkpoint service over 17 square miles of Grand Rapids. Northern Minnesota was chosen by May Mobility for the demonstration due to the extreme winter climate. This decision was prescient, since the winter of 2022-2023 in area turned out to be the snowiest on record. The GoMarti vehicles have performed safely and effectively in the wide range of conditions encountered in Grand Rapids. The sensors on the vehicles can identify many potential hazards, such as encroaching vehicles, pedestrians, or animals, more quickly than humans. Vehicles still have drivers aboard who can assume manual control in any situations that the autonomous mode cannot handle, such as traffic circles. Ridership in August exceeded 1,000, the highest monthly ridership to date.
During my trip, I also visited with staff of the St. Croix Tribe in Hertel, Wis. CTAA previously provided technical assistance to the St. Croix Tribe through our former USDA Tribal Technical Assistance Program. The scope of mobility needs among tribal members appears to have grown since CTAA last provided technical assistance. Transportation services are provided by individual tribal agencies, but there is no dedicated public transit provider. Like transit agencies elsewhere, tribal departments face difficulties in recruiting and retaining drivers, partly as a result of COVID. The local dialysis center in Siren, Wis., closed due to lack of demand, necessitating longer trips to more distant dialysis centers. Tribal agencies have also found it difficult to acquire new vehicles, and have resorted to purchase of used vehicles. The tribe is exploring acquisition of electric vehicles, and is constructing a new vehicle maintenance facility. The St. Croix Tribe could be a candidate for additional technical assistance from CTAA if we have the resources to provide it.
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.