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Gaia Transit

Gaia Transit provides an eco-friendly, reliable, and enriched transportation option for the community and visitors to get to/around Detroit.

Photo of Jennifer  Edwards
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Due to increasing economic development, a growing population, and more and more people returning to Detroit, the need for a public transit system that works for everyone is more important than ever. Conversely, the most aggressive scientific predictions estimate that we have until the end of 2020 to reduce global climate emissions and keep the earth’s temperature from rising any further, in order to prevent catastrophic consequences.

This means that all of us will have to do our part; however, that shouldn’t also prevent us from still being able to work, run errands, travel or connect with each other and our surroundings. So, how do we do this, while reducing our carbon footprint and not adding additional strain to a rapidly growing economy? We do so, by participating in communal, environmentally friendly, ride sharing services such as our proposed ‘Gaia Transit’ (GT).

GT, an environmentally friendly shuttle service, was conceived by its founders, Jennifer Edwards and Sarah Spoto, following the recognition that in addition to lacking safe, reliable, public transportation, Metro Detroit is also lacking a communal option specifically focused on protecting the environment. Furthermore, the component of experience seems to be missing from all transportation options, whether public or private, as if value and enjoyment are mutually exclusive.  This is in stark contrast to the #PureMichigan values of Midwestern hospitality and stewardship of this beautiful Great Lakes State.

With the creation of GT, we would create a network of hybrid transit vans, utilizing the Michigan Central Station as a hub, to transport riders to and around metro Detroit. We would  incorporate fringe amenities such as ambient lighting, calming music and a hot towel + complimentary beverage (for longer rides), to ensure that our riders have a pleasant and relaxing experience, while feeling good about reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, we would ensure that our shuttles are ALWAYS on time, rain or shine (much like the bullet trains in Japan), to re-instill confidence in public transit, especially for the rider on their way to work or the airport.

In order to execute this idea, we are seeking $150,000 in grant money to run additional market research, test pilots, adjust learnings, and scale a beta version for the summer of 2020.

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

Impact Area residents might own a vehicle or have access to ride sharing services, but have an expanded carbon footprint. Furthermore, parking shortages provide an added inconvenience. GT will provide added value by creating a public, eco-friendly, accessible option that reduces emissions by operating hybrid vehicles, which remain running constantly to eliminate the major CO2 output every start of an engine produces. The service will be reliable, operating on a consistent, extended schedule, with key stations around high traffic areas in the city, such as Campus Martius, Little Cesars Arena, the Riverfront, Lafayette Park, Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and the Michigan Central Station (its hub). The incorporation of fringe amenities, such as calming music, comfortable and clean interiors, and ambient lighting, as well as beverages and hot towels for longer commutes, would provide a more enjoyable, luxury experience, though costs would remain competitive. The service would be public.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)


Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

Jennifer Edwards and Sarah Spoto are business school colleagues and friends, who both moved to Detroit, following graduation, to work in the auto industry. Jennifer left the auto industry to focus on her passion around social impact, while Sarah is still there on the product side. Both team members have a deep desire to have a positive impact on society via entrepreneurship. Also, both being millennials that are hyper aware of the environmental crisis, they focus on eco-friendly opportunities.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • Yes

Funding Request

  • $150,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

$25,000 – comprehensive market evaluation (research, competitive assessment, consumer surveys, financial models, forecasts, etc.) $60,000 – Product (transit vans, via temporary lease), permits, licenses, signage, amenities $30,000 – marketing materials (digital, social, OOH, radio media, content, assets, promotional events). $35,000 – Operational (drivers, trainings, insurance)

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

We will pilot our idea by first completing a comprehensive evaluation of the market, to fully understand the opportunities, risk, competition and our value proposition. Using that data, we will determine the proper operational, product, marketing, pricing and logistical needs our business will require, and will develop a model that allows us to establish GT on a small, but profitable and scalable, level in downtown Detroit. We will then begin by offering strategically scheduled, select routes around high traffic/opportunity areas, based off of transit and economic data. Additionally, we will monitor execution, consumer experience, cost, and efficiency to modify operations, under a constant improvement model, and will make real time updates. We will also market the service via strategically selected media and community channels. Based on performance from the first 4-8 weeks, we will evolve GT’s model to ensure it is sustainable.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Success would be measured by various metrics, with the most important being: • Carbon Emission reduction per passenger • Renewable Energy vs natural energy usage (i.e. Electric vs gas) • Ridership of passengers, compared to ridesharing services and public/private transit • Timeliness of arrivals and departures from all stations along routes. • Brand Favorability as measured by consumer experience and surveying. • Profitability/Savings of GT over a six-month observational period based on consumption. • Scalability of GT, based off of profitability and supply/demand.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

GT is 100% sustainable, as the need for eco-friendly services focused on reducing carbon emissions will never go away (given the scientific data driving conservation efforts). Furthermore, the need for cost efficient, experience oriented, reliable transportation will remain consistent in a consumer oriented world. Finally, given Detroit’s lack of a metro system, like other major cities, and the inflated costs of car ownership/insurance, a public option will be a need for the foreseeable future.

Social Media

Currently under development....

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Mackenzie Fankell

@Jennifer Edwards Thank you for sharing this proposal! I am a Michigan Central Station Challenge facilitator. I agree that another public transportation option, especially one that is sustainable, is necessary in Detroit. What community members do you think this shuttle service would serve the most? Would your shuttles serve neighborhoods or strictly commericial areas? I look forward to hearing more!