On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer, talks about recommendations in a report from the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification.
Among the highlights, or pillars, Pawl outlines:
Transition and grow our mobility industry and workforce.
Provide safer, greener and more accessible transportation infrastructure
Lead the world in mobility and electrification policy and innovation
Jeff Cranson: Hello this is the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. I'm your host Jeff Cranson. You may have seen the headline recently. Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification recommends policy changes investments to better position the state as a transportation leader. So, what does that mean? Unlike the weather, mobility in Michigan is an area where people don't just talk about it, they actually do things. So here to talk about the highlights of the report looks back on what was accomplished in mobility in 2022 and what we can look forward to in the future is Michigan's Chief Mobility Officer, Trevor Pawl. Welcome back to the podcast.
Trevor Pawl: Mr. Cranson it is really great to be here with you today. Did you have a good Thanksgiving? Did you have a good sort of like entrance to the holiday season?
Cranson: Very nice, you know, Boyne Mountain had enough snow to open up, so we were up there for a couple days. Unfortunately, it got warm in the base, diminished dry period, but it was still nice to get some early season runs in. So yeah,
Pawl: You seem like a mogul’s guy. I could be wrong,
Cranson: Yeah definitely, no there's no bumps yet, that's for sure. But I am, I mean, my knees aren't what they used to be, but I do like to ski the bumps.
Pawl: Yeah. OK. You probably didn't want to talk to me today to talk about moguls, so should we get into mobility.
Cranson: No, we could do a podcast on Michigan skiing another time. But yeah, talk about what kind of year was it for mobility in Michigan? Do you feel pretty good about things?
Pawl: Yeah. It was an active year. It was a year where things moved in dog years. We had massive investments; the largest investment General Motors has ever made, and its companies history made right here in Michigan in a span of a month. We had a company that started only years earlier, announced a battery plant $1.5 billion battery plant in in our next energy right in Southeast Michigan. On the same day that another company announced the largest ever investment in Northern Michigan for battery plant. In total, those investments added up to $4.5 billion and 4500 jobs. And I believe if my numbers are right, that Northern Michigan investment will we to about 9 to $10 billion in that new personal income over the next 20 years for that area around Big Rapids. So, on the economic development side. Things are humming. Things are booming. But there's also a lot of to be excited about as it relates to infrastructure and you know, movement on the Cavneu corridor that Detroit to Ann Arbor self-driving vehicle corridor movement on the wireless charging road. With that, we're partnered with electron to bring forward. We announced some really cool things with the Lake MI circuit. That signature EV route along Lake Michigan that we're now turning into a loop because Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana thought it was a really great idea and we think together we can reinvent the American road trip.
Cranson: Talk about a little more on what the idea is there to make people understand that that's all about. You know it's a seamless, you know, range anxiety, free existence if you're driving an AV, right.
Pawl: Yeah, yeah, sure. So, the idea is, you know, when you think of ecotourism, you think of resorts, but not necessarily the space between, you know, resorts in your home. And so, we were thinking, well, what about that space? How could we make it greener? How could we bring attention to the tourism clusters along the West Michigan coast and up into the UP? And how do we also use that as a signaling that it's OK to buy any V, because there are chargers in in non or not as populated areas. Your rains anxiety can go away in part and also, it's a unique challenge to install chargers along a route with low grid power. And so, you're, you know, we also look at it as a test bed where we can try new solar innovations that can supply power for charging or, you know, there's even points where you could potentially look at old infrastructure, like from a lighthouse and rethink that to help charge a vehicle or even energy storage innovations. Or there's some technologies that actually create their own kinetic energy in the middle of nowhere, and that kinetic energy can charge a vehicle. These Coxes that's sitting next to the Charger. So, for all those reasons, it makes a lot of sense. And, you know, we think there's enough to see along the route and even in Wisconsin and Illinois and Indiana and lucky for us, Chicago's there too. And a lot of their networks already built out, so we're excited about that project.
Cranson: Where do you see this going from a revenue standpoint? Because there are still people that that think they make a public policy argument that we should, you know, for reasons of sustainability, we should subsidize charging stations. Obviously, if you're in the, you know, fossil fuel business, you think, well, my goodness, you don't provide gas free at rest areas.
Cranson: You know, so what do you think that shakes out?
Cranson: Yeah. So, I mean, I think we're like the state just got $110 million for charging infrastructure through the infrastructure plan. It's incumbent upon state government to ensure the equitable rollout of charging technology, which means we have to hold the pen at some point in this process of rolling out charging infrastructure. We also have the federal funds to do it and those funds can't be used for like other things. There are very specific ways to use it. So, one of the other highlights for this from this year. So, we talked about economic development projects. I talked about some of the cool infrastructure projects, but also the federal funding wins. And so, we our team, it's called the NEVI, the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program, $7.5 billion nationally, we got 110. Our plan was approved and so now we're already beginning to build out a long strategic corridor, usually in interstates, because we have to designate all the corridors we're going to use. So, think I-75, I-696, I-94, I-69 even in the UP, I think it's US-2. Building out those that reliable charging network that will create worry free travel, hopefully by you know in a few years or later in the decade and you know, I think like unique. Granted, that's only on the Interstate, right. There are unique cases we still need to tackle in cities, things like multi use dwelling charging. Even in areas where maybe there aren't high levels of EV adoption, how do you creep like, like ignite those adoption levels by created by building chargers in the community that maybe they're paid for by the marketing that maybe there's a screen on the charger and companies can, you know like post their brand, post an ad that pays for the chargers, so the community doesn't, the state doesn't so, there's different models that we're exploring. It's a Wild West and it would be naive of Michigan to just sit not active on the sidelines and watch everything play out. It's much like how we were. I'm sure we were very active in the rollout of traffic signals and stop signs and pavements and everything else that's happened in the history of infrastructure in this country now is not the time for us to hold the resources latent. We need to be out there using it, making a difference.
Cranson: Yeah, I think. Well said. I think that the Wild West is what it is in a good way. The opportunities are limitless. Really. So. Yeah, we will continue the conversation right after a quick break.
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Cranson: So, talk a little bit about I saw that it within the recommendations you know highlighted in the report where a transition and growth in the mobility industry and workforce and there were some specific bullets attached to that. How do you talk about that?
Pawl: Yeah, so one of the other big? So again, we talked about economic development and infrastructure and federal funding. We also rolled out a state strategy for mobility this year that laid out some ambitious goals and they were organized in three pillars. The first was transitioning grow our mobility industry workforce. The second was provide safer, greener and more accessible transportation infrastructure. And the third was lead the world in mobility and electrification policy and innovation and under those, we had ambitious goals, so one of the goals was to create 20,000 new mobility jobs by 2026, but also increase the median wage. We also want to add 7000 people with new mobility credentials by later in the decade and increase industry diversity as it relates to infrastructure, we want to have 100,000 chargers on the road and two million EV by 2030, hydrogen infrastructure we want to make sure that all 77 of our transit agencies have software to service options or things that can even you know easier sort of payment systems. We want to make sure our software can improve our transit experience which we think will up ridership. And then finally, of course, we want to, you know, bring down traffic crashes and congestion leveraging new smart technology and EV so all of those things in the strategy that the governor announced at the Detroit Auto Show were considered. And actually, those three pillars were used in this year's annual report from the Council on Future Mobility and Electrification and just as a refresher, so this is a group that literally meets every month to try to disrupt state law, to look at things in transportation law that archaic, don't make sense, or places where we have gaps in coverage we can lead and then releases from a substantive list of policy recommendations annually that then we chase with legislature through the year. And this group is made-up of OEM, suppliers, unions, universities, bipartisan legislators, state department directors, economic developers, cities. So, the list is pretty is a cross function of our economy list is pretty diverse and substantial and so I guess to answer your question. You know, there's a couple of different things that we're trying to do under each of these pillars, Jeff. Do you want me to go through them or?
Cranson: Yeah, I guess. Yeah, I'm most interested, I think in the things that involve alternative fuel corridors, you touched on hydrogen, and I think there might be some confusion out there about why we are going all in on EB's if we really think hydrogen is the future, but it's not an either-or question, right?
Pawl: No, it's not, I mean, hydrogen at the moment maybe not the best solution at scale for passenger vehicles like sedans and SUV's. It is by far an intriguing value proposition for medium heavy-duty trucks off road vehicles, airplanes, boats, all these other modes of transportation that are critical to this the supply chain and critical to our economy, which is why it's getting so much attention and why Michigan views it as a priority. You know, we think eventually too it will make it to passenger vehicles. One thing about hydrogen is and versus electric vehicles is you know, you get to a point, there's economies of scale issue when the battery is too big. It causes the vehicle to weigh too much. If the vehicles are you know, a long haul, 18-Wheeler, where it's just not a good way to save cost if you're a fleet operator. And the thing with hydrogen is you lose that weight. And it's also the same routine. It's literally like you get out takes 3 to 5 minutes to pump the vehicle full of hydrogen. Then you're on your way. And so that's why hydrogen makes a ton of sense where the battery has been optimized and now is, I think, a more cost-effective choice. That's where you're seeing some of these smaller vehicles, these pasture vehicles leaning towards electric. That's why GM feels comfortable committing to an all-electric model portfolio by 2035 that’s the deal. So, hydrogen is very much additive to electric vehicles and our batteries and batteries are very additive to what we're thinking with hydrogen. And but I think for real hydrogen is going to stick around, it's going to be something that we're going to continue to prioritize the state want we want to lead on this the governor wants to lead on hydrogen.
Cranson: Well, even when it comes to leading, I know I get questions from people that I know in other states about Michigan and why we're going all in on this and at the same time, we want to be the leaders in mobility and public policy around mobility. This is also a matter of reality and responding to our biggest employers saying that this is where they're going like you just mentioned what GM is doing. Ford's doing the same thing, and so the other automakers.
Pawl: Yeah. And the supplier, the tier one suppliers like 4 via is a hydrogen arm of Freesia, which is that the one of the biggest global suppliers has a massive base here in Michigan. They're all in on hydrogen like. And there are other suppliers like them that see this opportunity. Keep in mind, electric vehicles require less parts and so to maintain profitability, maintain the jobs you have within your company. You need to begin to think of the box and find new ways to make money. Find new transportation modes to add value to, and hydrogen, just by virtue of technology and the systems lends itself very well to some of these traditional automotive suppliers and I think it's going to be critical if we want to make sure that there's going to be a little bit of displacement regardless as we head towards you know, a future that doesn't have as many internal combustion engine vehicles. But to minimize that we need to make sure that we're leading in other areas.
Cranson: Yeah, that's training and that's community colleges readjusting for the kinds of jobs that involve. You know, repairing these kinds of vehicles and understanding this kind of technology, right?
Pawl: Yeah, 100%. And, you know, it just as the quick aside, I think lately in the news people have, you know, with the news of Argo and Ford, you know, people have thought that AV technology has stalled. And I don't think it's the case at all. Just in the last year there’s been $12 billion dollars put into AV companies. In the last decade, $100 billion into AV companies. Much like electric vehicles in 2008 thousand nine were all the rage. And then they kind of like, went to the back page of the news and then they weren't in the news at all. They kind of went dark side of the moon. But that money that they invested during that, that decade stayed in the system and batteries became cheaper and lighter. Vehicles became easier to sort of to scale with an electric model like I think, AV technology needs that dark side of the moon time. And I think we're here where, you know, cleaner technology is getting the headlines and the attention more than smarter technology at the moment. That's fine because again, people are still waking up every day and going and working and trying to figure out how to bring the cost down. Try and specifically for AV's trying to bring the cost of hardware limiting the hardware that you use for driverless vehicle. So, people say it's stalled. I disagree. I think we're very much at a place like where we're like, EV's were in 2010, so I was 11,012 and now look at what's happening today. So, I think, you know, AVs are going to come back with a vengeance and have the same level of large investments later in the decade and into the twenty 30s.
Cranson: I think your metaphor is pretty good, and I'm glad to finally have a Pink Floyd reference on the podcast, but you're absolutely right. There is a buzz right now that AV's you know, must be stalled out, and I think I think you phrased it really well and obviously we still have a lot invested in that. We've done a lot in public policy and the Council still talking about that going forward. So, I don't think anybody in Michigan is giving it a rest.
Pawl: Yeah, I agree. And then it's just like. Just because it's not front, I mean and frankly it is front and center like it's just not the idea of the robo taxi that's going to be available next week in your city, much like how Uber entered the scene and Bird and some of these other scooter companies entered the scene, it's just not going to work that way. But what is going to seem fast and furious are the autonomous features of vehicles.
Pawl: The ability to navigate in construction zone a bit easier. I was just was in a F150 lightning with, with Ford's autonomous driving technology and it's, I mean, there were long stretches on I-75 where I didn't need to hold this tunnel and there were turns and it was kind of busy time. And I felt safe. I felt like it was doing a better job than I could do.
Cranson: No, it's like long thought that if you ask people about a AV's, they're like, no, no, no. You know, I don't trust that. But then you say, well, do you like your adaptive cruise control? Do you like lane assist? You know, do you like your backing camera? It's like you like all those things, right? Well, that's how you get there.
Pawl: Yeah. I know 100%. So, I think that, you know, eventually you're going to get in a place where whole acts that you would think would be. I don't know. Like. Further away are going to be a little bit in your life a little bit sooner than you would think. Like parking. I think autonomous parking is going to be something autonomous valet autonomous trucks along long-haul routes like these are things that you can easily eliminate the driver from right now. As long as the environments around them are controlled.
Cranson: All our friends had John Peracchio likes to talk about dogs on skateboards. How close are we to that?
Pawl: I would say 5 to 7 years.
Cranson: I am so glad you had an answer. Well, OK. Just a couple minutes left.
Pawl: We should probably talk about these policy recommendations.
Cranson: Well, that's kind of where I wanted to go, right? I mean, if you would like to sum up what you think are the most important ones and what's doable?
Pawl: Yeah, sure. So maybe the best way because it is a substantive document, it's a beach read. If you're on the beach but it is a substantive document, so I will try to hit some of the highlights. So, as I mentioned, it's organized by three pillars. That first pillar is transitioning grower mobility industry workforce and you know we're creating all these jobs in the state. All these battery plants are coming here, but we also need to make sure that once folks are here, they can get to their jobs and there's a good transit system, so we believe in bus rapid transit, and we're suggesting additional investment there to revive and also revive some of those mobility innovation challenges that MDOT did a few years ago. The $8 million one for you know the elderly, veterans, personal disabilities to you know have better transportation options in their communities revive those.
Cranson: Well, bus rapid transit, it's been a big success running from downtown Grand Rapids to your alma mater and back.
Pawl: So, there you go. That's a good model. Yeah. And there were plenty of other recommendations. But just because I know, you know, we're running out of time. I'll pick that one from that pillar and then I'll move on to the next pillar. So, the next pillar of the report, pillar two is providing safer, greener and more accessible transportation. And so, you know, as we think about EV adoption increase in our state, we know that there needs to be rebates and different incentives put in place. So, we are definitely proposing and pushing forward what the governor had already laid out $2500 incentive. 2000 for the vehicle, 500 for charging and maybe we even do more for charging depending on where things go. But we do think there should be something in place as well as accessibility standards for EV chargers because that's incredibly important. Another thing that we spent some time on is electrifying school buses just given how much pollution that they spread it around communities right now. We think that's an urgent challenge to try to electrify all the districts in the state. And then finally, the last one pillar three, lead the world in mobility policy and innovation. We've seen a spike in both investment across the world but then also activity and use cases in air mobility and drones and UAS technologies and in Michigan we’re doing a couple of different things. We're looking at building out a feasibility study to see what a drone skyway in Southeast Michigan might look like if done responsibly. And Ontario is even involved. So, we want to put more money into this space. We think that it's going to be something that is going to be part of our lives and Michigan wants to drive that national conversation as it becomes something that everyone begins to talk about a bit more. Granted drones to me are like helicopters. Like I don't want to walk outside, you know, every time I walk outside and see a helicopter, it's loud. It's just not what I want. Drones are going to be the same way, and we want to create a system in Michigan where they can do their jobs and be productive and grow as an industry but not disrupt communities. And that's why we got to start thinking about it now and then, you know, other things in this pillar just involve, like different legislative concepts and things we'd like to see past now that we have a second term of a governor and a new legislature and things of that nature.
Cranson: Yeah. I think mobility, research and development talent tax credit is a is a great. That's from a policy standpoint, that would be, that would be huge.
Pawl: Yeah, we want to create a mobility research and development talent tax credit. Spread the word.
Cranson: Yeah. Thanks, Trevor. This is great. As always. We'll talk again and touch on some of these maybe after the first of the year. See how things are going and I hope you and. Your growing family have great holidays.
Pawl: Thank you. Same, same to you. I always enjoy this.
Cranson: Hope you enjoyed this week's edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation Podcast. You can find show notes and more information at either the bus route site or on Apple Podcast. I also want to thank the people who work on this podcast and make it as good as it can be each week, chiefly Randy Debler who does the audio editing. Also, Jacke Salinas, who puts the transcript together. Jesse Ball, who proofreads the show notes and Courtney Bates, who posts the podcasts on the various platforms.