By Eric McDonald,
Director, Testing & Infrastructure Development
The Detroit Regional Chamber notes that Michigan “leads the nation in the number of projects and legislation passed for connected and automated vehicle testing.” Funding for smart mobility infrastructure primarily focuses on moving individual automobile commuters swiftly to and through upper-income communities, communities with the resources to readily use the technology. In Detroit and other lower-income communities and communities of color, vehicles are older and less likely to be compatible with smart technologies such as accident avoidance, GPS sensors, roadside sensors, machine learning and autonomous vehicles; therefore, those communities do not see similar investments in smart mobility infrastructure. While seemingly logical, this approach exacerbates the smart divide, the disparity between those who are and those who are not able to use, access or benefit from smart grids and smart mobility infrastructure. This divide impacts not only the automobile industry, but also utilities. Are leaders in these industries aware of the smart divide – and what can be done to address it?
Investment and physical mobility infrastructure deficiencies are not the only barriers to addressing the smart divide. For lower-income communities and communities of color, other factors such as a lack of bank accounts, public transit routing and ridesharing impede these communities’ residents from accessing smart mobility. Lower-income people and people of color are less likely to have banking or credit accounts, preventing them from being able to use smart mobility apps, have fewer reliable transit routes than higher income areas and even experience ridesharing scarcity due to ride-share drivers turning off their phones in certain neighborhoods (Equity and Smart Mobility).
In addition to missing the benefits of smart mobility expansion, the development of smart grids also leaves lower-income communities and communities of color behind. These smart grids can increase power distribution efficiency and provide a more resilient power infrastructure, leading to more sustainable energy choices. But while smart grids will help utilities meet the demands of consumers who want to work toward a carbon-free energy future, upgrading current electrical infrastructure to smart grid infrastructure is costly. Installing smart grids in older urban areas will pose financial, logistical and geographical/geological challenges, likely preventing installation and hampering the efforts of lower-income communities and communities of color in achieving greater local energy self-sufficiency.
Without investment or implementation, lower-income communities and communities of color will continue to see a lack of smart infrastructure installation, worsening the smart divide. Smart infrastructure must reach these communities. If these segments of society are constrained by the smart divide, they will struggle to match the economic potential of more affluent communities. These communities do not exist in isolation—an impediment on one community’s economy will eventually hinder the economy as a whole. Industry leaders need to put forth their best effort to address the smart divide. All cities need the opportunity to be smart cities. Contact me with your ideas or for a discussion on the smart divide.