DEARBORN — Ford will start offering a new ride-sharing shuttle service for employees in Dearborn starting Tuesday in a move that could lead to a new business for an automaker trying to re-invent itself more broadly as a mobility company.

Executive Chairman Bill Ford has long been a proponent of addressing the challenges of future mobility as cities become more congested. The number of megacities (population of 10 million or more) is expected to grow from 28 today to 41 by 2030 and the middle class is expected to double to 4 billion.

Ford introduced its Ford Smart Mobility plan in January with 25 projects that incorporate data, ride-sharing, alternative modes of transportation. connectivity and autonomous driving to try to find better ways for people to share the road in the future. Ford also opened a Silicon Valley office to broaden its thinking in these areas, which will have 103 employees by year’s end.

The growth of ride-sharing programs such as Uber and Lyft convinced Ford executives this a viable industry and it is better to ride the wave than fight it.

In October General Motors said it will begin testing a fleet of autonomous Chevrolet Volts by the end of 2016 by shuttling employees around the campus of its technical center in Warren. .

Fields said the market for “vehicle miles traveled” is $5 trillion, and Ford does not have a piece of it.

“We see this as a value stream for our shareholders,” said Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering,

For the shared shuttle project Ford will use its Dearborn campus as a test site for a new scheduling app and fleet of customized Transit vans that Ford employees can order for a ride to 129 locations. About 300 employees are expected to use it daily.

The on-demand ride service is a cross between a taxi and a bus, said Erica Klampfl, Ford global mobility solutions manager.

Employees use the “where do you want to go” app on their phone to order a shuttle. The algorithm assigns a van and sends a message with the pickup and dropoff times which the employee can accept or decline.

Dynamic Shuttle will replace an existing shuttle service in Dearborn, home to Ford world headquarters, said Thomas Miller who is in charge of the project.  The current fleet of 21 vans will be replaced by new customized ones with the first four in commission this week and the rest on the road over the next few months. Ford will control the number of users who can use the app initially so the service is not overwhelmed.

The Dynamic Shuttle idea will be tested locally but the vision is global. Following the announcement of the idea in January, Ford surveyed commuters in eight cities around the world: New York and Atlanta; London and Edinborough; Mumbai and Chennai in India; Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo in Brazil to gain insights into their needs.

They learned passengers in the U.S. and U.K. value their personal space so the 21 customized vans being tested in Dearborn will offer comfortable seating for up to eight passengers and wifi, USB ports and storage space for small bags.

Seating for 18 works in India where demand for shared transportation is high, all want a seat and they have no problem sharing space, Klampfl said.

Washington did not know how long the pilot program will run before it expands to other cities or countries. The Dearborn service could also be expanded to take employees home.

The automaker is open to all possibilities from selling its vans to other ride-sharing companies to running its own car-sharing operation. The ride-sharing model could be integrated with public transit or offer an alternative to bus service in a small community.

“Our vision is to be a service provider beyond building vans for someone else’s fleet,” Washington said.

“There might be a partner to help accelerate development,” Washington said. That could be a journey planning service or another van commuting service.

Contact Alisa Priddle: 313-222-5394 or apriddle@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlisaPriddle