(TNS) GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The future of driverless vehicles in Grand Rapids is inching closer to becoming reality.
Beginning in March 2019, the city will begin a one-year trial period with a self-driving shuttle service that offers free rides along the city's already-existing DASH West route.
On Friday, Sept. 28, representatives from Grand Rapids and nine partner organizations behind the Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative announced the project during a presentation of a driverless shuttle at Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids.
"This isn't about if, but when and how our existing systems will interact with our new, and very real autonomous future," said Edwin Olson, CEO and co-founder of the Ann Arbor-based startup May Mobility.
"This distinct partnership between the city and a broad group of private interests shows how self-driving vehicles can integrate into a city, complement existing public transportation and provide equal access to all people."
The $750,000 pilot program, known as the Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative, is a partnership with nine Michigan companies. Grand Rapids will pay $250,000, while May Mobility pays $250,000 and the private-sector partners pick up the remaining $250,000.
The initiative will feature four six-seat electric shuttles, which will provide free rides for passengers along a 3.2 mile section of the city's existing DASH West bus route. They will join the already existing buses on those routes.
The self-driving shuttle can reach a top speed of 25 mph. Riders will be able to expect a shuttle to arrive at each stop every 4-6 minutes on weekdays from 5 a.m. to midnight.
One seat will be reserved for a fleet attendant, though the vehicle will be fully autonomous. Each shuttle is equipped with emergency controls.
Grand Rapids' free DASH West bus service already provides connectivity to more than 10 city parking lots, as well as the David D. Hunting YMCA, Kendall College of Art & Design, Grand Rapids Children's Museum, Van Andel Arena, and Bridge Street Market.
Riders will have access to 22 passenger stops along the route, which features 30 traffic lights and 12 turns, including three left turns.
Before the driverless vehicle hits the streets, May Mobility will work with city officials to conduct focus groups, questionnaires and other survey methods to understand the community's needs around accessible vehicles and infrastructure.
Their staff will map the route, gather traffic and pedestrian data, and test the vehicle both manually and autonomously during daylight and evening hours. They will also install an estimated 20 roadside units, which provide "additional redundancy for better service and safety," according to city staff.
In addition to May Mobility, Grand Rapids' partners in the initiative include Consumers Energy, Faurecia, Gentex, Rockford Construction, Seamless, Steelcase and Start Garden.
The goal of the initiative is to prove that Grand Rapids' infrastructure can support the "ever-evolving, ever-expanding operational capabilities of the rapidly approaching autonomous vehicle market."
"The city of Grand Rapids is the best, real-world testing ground for new and future of mobility technologies, and our city is proving that today with this unique public-private mobility partnership," said Josh Naramore, director of Mobile GR, in a statement.
"Grand Rapids has a long history of bringing together urban planning and applied innovation to create a city that works for all people, including residents, visitors and business alike."
May Mobility's vehicles, which use on-board cameras, satellites and vehicle-to-infrastructure connections, are already on the streets of Detroit, though they're limited to private use.
A May Mobility shuttle will be at ArtPrize on Saturday, Sept. 29, on Monroe Center near Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.
©2018 The Grand Rapids Press, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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