World Economic Forum studies cross-border mobility between Windsor and Michigan

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell


Windsor got a little attention Thursday at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of world leaders in Davos, Switzerland, with the release of a cross-border study on mobility integration.

The WEF pilot project involves Windsor, Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The two-year study looks at data sharing, including with disadvantaged communities, and mobility and commuting solutions for the 6,700 local workers who cross the border into Michigan daily.

“The benefits of this for Windsor are the partnerships we’re forming in Michigan and raising the profile of the community,” said Institute for Border Logistics and Security executive director Susan Anzolin, whose organization is overseeing Windsor’s participation in the project.

“What we’re hoping to get out of this is increased entrepreneurship — more start-ups — and more integration into the U.S. economy. That means more trade and innovation.

“It means economic diversification and more prosperity and more and better jobs for the region.”

Windsor’s portion of the project is to look at creating a faster and more effective ways of getting workers back and forth across the border.

The vast majority of the region’s 6,700 commuters are employed by U.S. hospitals and virtually all of them drive to work.

That adds to congestion at the border and pressure on parking facilities at hospitals.

“We’re looking at the feasibility of autonomous vehicle shuttles or apps for ride sharing from the Canadian side to the hospitals,” Anzolin said. “We’re doing focus groups to gauge interest on this side. We’ve asked nurses at job fairs and there seems to be interest.”

Anzolin said American hospitals are also showing great interest in participating in building such a system.

“Having a transportation system that can get employees to work on time, safely that also reduces demand for parking could save millions,” Anzolin said.

“One Detroit hospital is looking at having to spend millions building a parking garage. Yet in 20 years, with the changes in mobility options that will become available, a garage may not be needed.”

Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Corp. has already set up such an AV shuttle system in downtown Detroit for its employees.

Anzolin said the study is an attempt by the region to address the mass transit shortcoming identified in 2017’s joint Amazon bid to help the region draw larger corporations and investment.

According to the WEF study, 91 per cent of workers in the Detroit-Windsor region drive to work.

The region as a whole only sees four per cent of the population use public transit.

The numbers are even worse for Windsor.

According to the latest 2016 figures, only 3.64 per cent of the population regularly uses Transit Windsor.

The number of commuters using the Detroit-Windsor tunnel daily is even more miniscule. Transit Windsor has issued about 50 monthly passes for the tunnel bus.

“We used to have higher tunnel-bus ridership for commuters when there were more office and banking jobs in downtown Detroit,” said Transit Windsor executive director Pat Delmore, who participated in meetings with his U.S. counterparts as part of the study.

“Now those jobs have moved further out and the shift scheduling for hospitals doesn’t necessary work using the bus. The bus also has a limited route in downtown Detroit.”

One idea that’s been looked at in the study is reviving the transferability of tunnel bus fares. Up until the legalities of Detroit’s bankruptcy ended it, riders could transfer from the tunnel bus to Detroit’s mass transit system.

“We’re interested in ideas to further integrate transit in the whole region on both sides of the border,” Delmore said.

“There’s real social and economic impacts because of transit that are being recognized across the country right now.”