The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has awarded a contract to May Mobility to deliver a limited and controlled automated vehicle pilot service to help fill a transportation gap between downtown Providence and the state capital’s Olneyville suburb.
The new pilot project is the latest step in a wider multi-agency effort called the Rhode Island Transportation Innovation Partnership (TRIP) Mobility Challenge, which aims to explore new mobility technologies.
The autonomous pilot service will be available and free to the public for a year, during which time RIDOT will test and research a range of factors to better understand the potential of new technology to improve mobility options for citizens. The first phase will begin over the winter months on low-volume, low-speed roadways in the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown.
The shuttle service is expected to be available to the public in the Woonasquatucket River corridor in Providence in late spring 2019. Information about the hours of operation, number of available vehicles, and stops along the route, will be announced well in advance of the start of service. RIDOT and May Mobility will develop a public education campaign including signs along the route and a website.
Under the terms of the public-private partnership, RIDOT will contribute US$800,000 for the first year of operation. This includes US$300,000 of 100% federally funded research funds through the Federal Highway Administration and a US$500,000 grant awarded by the RI Attorney General’s Office as part of a settlement with Volkswagen. If successful, RIDOT’s contract with May Mobility includes options to extend the service for an additional two years.
May Mobility was selected through a competitive request-for-proposals process that started earlier this year. The company is an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based startup that is developing self-driving shuttles for college campuses, corporate clients and central business districts. It launched a private corporate service in Detroit in June this year, and has also entered into agreements for public service routes in Columbus, Ohio and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Through the public-private partnership in Rhode Island, the company will begin a study and testing phase with small autonomous vehicle shuttles. Each vehicle will hold six people including a fleet attendant who will have the ability to fully control the vehicle at any time, further ensuring safety. The shuttles are fully electric, supporting the state’s environmental and emissions reductions goals.
“Our goal is to allow people to drive less and live more by making transportation more accessible and convenient for all,” said May Mobility’s CEO, Edwin Olson. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with RIDOT where our service will connect multiple communities both to each other and to mass transit, creating opportunities with a service that riders are going to love.”
RIDOT’s director, Peter Alviti, commented, “Now that we are well underway in executing the Governor’s RhodeWorks program, we are able to focus on improving our transportation system, and that includes pilot programs like this to look at how to safely integrate new technology into our planning in a very careful, measured manner.”