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Is Kansas City Ready For The 'Smart Mobility Revolution?' Leaders Say Yes.

Theresa L Wysocki
Kansas City leaders are confident the city is poised to thrive during the "smart mobility revolution"

Bill Ford Jr., Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company, says the “smart mobility revolution” is on the way. He believes it won’t be long before cars drive themselves, roads collect data and self-report, and vehicles enter the service industry as driverless taxis and roving mobile shops.

Ford shared this vision at the Kinetic Transportation Summit Wednesday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City.

“The auto industry will see more degrees of change in the next 10 years, than in the prior 100,” said Ford Jr.

Building upon lessons learned while avoiding bankruptcy prior to the 2008 recession, Ford Jr. is confident in his company’s ability to be a leader in the “smart mobility revolution.”

Ford Jr. says his team is tripling the size of its autonomous driving vehicle test fleet this year.

To prepare for the “revolution," they are also creating a more nimble corporate structure to handle the inevitable failures that come with innovation, and seeking out private-public partnerships in order to see wholesale changes.

“Well, in historic terms you can look back to when we switched from horses to cars a century ago. The transition from conventional cars to smart cars will be just as dramatic as we move forward,” explained Ford Jr.

Ford’s largest assembly plant is located in Claycomo, Missouri, and employs over 6,000 people. Alongside the economic impact of Ford’s innovations, Kansas City as a whole is preparing for new ways of getting around.

Joe Reardon, current President and CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, spoke in a panel after Ford Jr.’s presentation. He seemed very confident in Kansas City’s readiness for the oncoming “revolution.”

Reardon pointed towards Kansas City’s Smart City initiatives, the soon-to-be up and running streetcar, and public and private entities’ willingness to partner for the sake of progress.

Reardon would like to see Kansas City used as a “test bed” for transportation innovations. He explained that Kansas City would be ideal for experiments because we experience four distinct seasons, there’s an increasingly dense metro area adjacent to suburban and rural areas and the city is willing to invest in transportation innovations.

The next experiment to take place in Kansas City will bring on demand buses (in the form of 10-passenger vans hailed from an app) into certain areas to take residents to and from work for the same price they’d pay for a bus ride, $1.50.

KCATA is partnering with Bridj, a transportation start-up out of Boston, to bring this innovation to the area. This experiment will begin in March with 10 vans, all locally produced at the Ford assembly plant in Claycomo.

If you’re interested in catching a Bridj van to work in a few weeks, you can download the app now to get ahead of the “smart mobility revolution.”

Kyle J Smith is an intern for KCUR's digital team. You can find him on Twitter @kjs_37

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