NSF $ 1 million grant to roll out micromobility services to low-income neighborhoods
Suman Mitra, an assistant professor of civil engineering, poses with an electric scooter similar to the types of scooters that will be deployed in several neighborhoods in Fort Smith as part of a research study that will begin in January.
Early next year, an engineering researcher and community partners will deploy seven stations equipped with e-bikes and electric scooters in low-income neighborhoods of Fort Smith, where 65% of residents do not have a vehicle or do not have a vehicle. do not have access to reliable public transport.
Over 70% of residents told researchers they wanted to use these “shared micromobility services” when asked about the study, which is funded by more than $ 1 million in National Science grants. Foundation.
The study has many practical implications, said lead researcher Suman Mitra, assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Arkansas. It will help determine strategies and policies to guide local governments and community and business leaders in implementing micromobility services in small towns like Fort Smith. It is also likely to improve access to jobs and essential services like health care in neighborhoods where annual per capita income is $ 20,256, well below the national average.
“This project gives me the opportunity to do something that I always want to do as a transport researcher – working directly with the community to solve a real world problem that can improve the livelihoods of the local community as well as advance scientific knowledge, ”Mitra said. “I am very happy and grateful to receive these grants from the National Science Foundation. I have a team of excellent researchers, and I want to thank everyone who worked hard during the planning phase of this grant. “
The AU has five community partners for the project: the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the City of Fort Smith, the local bike-sharing operator Riverside Ride, the Champion Cycling bike store and the school in Future School of Fort Smith charter.
The researchers chose Fort Smith in part because of the support of community partners. Fort Smith was also chosen because it continues to have high levels of poverty, a lack of education, and limited access to public facilities, jobs and health care. A lack of affordable transportation contributes to these results, Mitra said.
Reese Brewer, Frontier MPO director and co-principal investigator on the project, said it was an honor to be a part of the study.
“By shining the spotlight on the difficulties in connecting low-income citizens to shared micromobility services, we can then begin to tackle long-standing transport inequalities and injustices,” Brewer said. “Being part of transformative ideas and change is extremely rewarding, especially when the project can have a positive impact on diverse and often overlooked neighborhoods.
The National Science Foundation first gave researchers a $ 50,000 planning grant under the CIVIC Innovation Challenge, which funded a broad community engagement process that included workshops, surveys and a series of virtual education and development sessions. The researchers also collected baseline data to identify community strengths, needs, and barriers regarding access to transportation and some high-priority neighborhoods that could benefit the most.
More recently, NSF selected the study “SMILIES: A Community Framework to Develop Shared Micromobility for Affordable and Accessible Housing” for a $ 1 million implementation grant.
The project is expected to start offering micromobility services in January. E-bikes and electric scooters will be free for a while before researchers test three pricing and incentive strategies. The pricing system that will produce the most balanced cost-effectiveness and affordability will be presented to the community in workshops to solicit final comments on its potential for long-term implementation.
“Our plan is to develop a sustainable revenue model so that the city can continue the service after the pilot,” Mitra said.
Besides Mitra and Brewer, the other co-principal investigators of the project are: Sarah Hernandez, associate professor of civil engineering; Rogelio Garcia Contreras, director of the social innovation program at Walton College of Business; and Elizabeth McClain, wellness manager at the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education.