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Autonomous Shuttle Project Launches in Arizona Retirement City

Sun City, Ariz., is the location for the latest autonomous on-demand transit program operated by May Mobility and Via. The project marks May Mobility’s first foray into the western United States.

Residents from Sun City, Ariz., use a new autonomous, on-demand shuttle service.
Submitted Photo: May Mobility
Autonomous shuttles are taking to streets in an Arizona retirement city, offering a mobility option where public transit service is scant.

The community of Sun City — a nearly 15-square-mile town home to 39,000 residents in the Phoenix metro region — has launched an 11-stop, free, on-demand service within a 3.5-square-mile zone. The vehicles, equipped with autonomous technology from May Mobility, include a human operator.

The vehicles — two Toyota Sienna vans — are provided by May Mobility, using the company’s proprietary Multi-Policy Decision Making (MPDM) technology, said Brittany Lockard, communications manager for May Mobility.

“May Mobility believes that transit should be more safe, reliable and accessible, and that aging populations stand to gain greater access through AV transit services,” said Lockard. “Sun City provides a unique opportunity to understand how AV technology is adopted by aging adults and how an on-demand, autonomous transit option can address challenges faced by this population.”

Via is providing the technology used to operate the vehicles in a transit setting, which includes engagement with riders. Via also provides the human operator.

"Everything we do at Via is designed to expand access to equitable, efficient transportation through the use of our TransitTech software, and we're excited to see how this deployment illuminates how combining AVs with public transit can foster independence and travel opportunities for aging populations in the U.S. and across the world,” said Meghan Grela, autonomous lead at Via, in an email.

The project follows other similar pilots in places like Arlington, Texas; Cary, N.C.; Colorado and others. They serve a variety of use cases, particularly when the vehicle size doesn’t warrant a full-size transit bus.

In Sun City — which residents and promoters enthusiastically call “Fun City” — the service will connect residents to various recreation centers as well as health care and shopping destinations. To access the service, offered from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, residents can use the May Mobility app or call May Mobility directly.

"We are very proud to be the original retirement community in the United States, with the goal of allowing residents to retire with an ideal quality of life,” said Beth Lucas, communications and marketing manager at the Sun City Visitors Center.

“We’re fundamentally changing public transit, making it easier and more desirable than having a personal car,” said Edwin Olson, CEO for May Mobility, in a statement. “People are living longer, and we believe that aging populations stand to gain greater access to mobility with autonomous vehicle technology. We’re committed to providing safe, reliable transportation for people who don’t want to or can’t drive themselves.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.