Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. is exploring transportation services as a good corporate citizen in its new hometown, and as a means to expand its mobility offerings.

As Toyota constructs its new headquarters in Plano, Texas, for 4,000 employees, the automaker is working with government officials on finding solutions to traffic congestion and improved use of public transportation. Toyota is participating in a broad study of transportation with the city of Plano along with nearby municipalities, transit agencies, and local employers.

The study has provided Toyota with an opportunity to explore its role in future transportation services beyond building and selling its vehicles.

One opportunity for service came through talking to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit District in the study. The transit agency descried an urgent need: a shuttle-bus service that helped the disabled and elderly travel to doctor appointments was about to lose its funding.

“The DART opportunity was brought to us based on conversations we’ve been having for over a year really trying to get a lay of the land,” said Jaycie Chitwood, sustainable mobility manager at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. “It really fit within our social innovation character, which is to bring mobility to everyone, not just people who can buy a car.”

Through a $1 million grant from Toyota, DART was able to keep the transportation service going. Toyota was about to look at ways to make is sustainable in the long term. One solution was subsidizing taxis for the rides instead of a dedicated bus.

For Toyota, it goes way beyond charitable giving and community service. The company is looking at a whole toolbox of mobility services, Chitwood said, but she declined to discuss specifics until the study is complete and the programs have been developed.

Finding solutions to transportation challenges inspired Toyota to design and test out small and versatile electric cars, such as the Toyota i-Road. Local commuters have needed so-called last-mile solutions to from train and bus stations to home or office.

These urban electric cars can be picked up at one location and dropped off at another. The three-wheel i-Road carries one person and some minimal belongings.

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The automaker launched the Toyota Mobility Foundation two years ago to work with nonprofit organizations around the world, governments and academics on solutions to urban transportation challenges and personal mobility services. Helping a community that can’t afford mobility options is a benefit to participating, but Toyota is also able to use it as an opportunity for product development.

“The philosophy that we have is really all about this idea of shared value,” said Latondra Newton, chief program officer for the foundation. “We can actually do great things with others in society and make a significant impact, but also bring value back into our business.”

Some of the urban transportation solutions may not be viable for a sprawling metro area like Dallas, but Toyota does see a need there for innovative last-mile transportation.

“We know that there are really smart ways to utilize your personal vehicle. It’s really about making sure they’re used in harmony with other mobility solutions in cities,” said Newton. “We don’t want cars to become the enemy.”

Automotive News