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Grand Rapids, Mich., Considers Autonomous Shuttle Pilot

The year-long trial run would cost about $750,000.

(TNS) — GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A driverless shuttle could be coming to downtown Grand Rapids as early as next spring as part of an effort to shape the future of the city's mass transportation scene.

Grand Rapids is considering a partnership with the Ann Arbor-based May Mobility, which would bring an driverless shuttle to the city for a one-year pilot program starting in March 2019.

The trial run would cost about $750,000, with Grand Rapids paying up to $250,000, May Mobility paying another $250,000, and private-sector partners picking up the remaining $250,000.

"This is a really exciting venture," Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said Tuesday during an economic development project team meeting at Grand Rapids City Hall.

The electric, six-seat shuttle would be free for riders for a one-year period through March 2020, with a right to renew for additional years. One seat would be reserved for a fleet attendant, though the vehicle would be fully automonous.

It would join the city's free Dash West shuttle service on a route that provides access to the West Side, Monroe Center and Heartside, and includes points of interest like David D. Hunting YMCA, Kendall College of Art & Design, Grand Rapids Children's Museum, Van Andel Arena, and Bridge Street Market.

Before the driverless vehicle hits the streets, May Mobility would 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 would map the route, gather traffic and pedestrian data, and test the vehicle both manually and autonomously during daylight and evening hours. They would also install an estimated 20 roadside units, which provide "additional redundancy for better service and safety," according to city staff.

In early 2019, the organization would present and demonstrate its completed prototype for rider and community feedback.

May Mobility's vehicles, which use on-board cameras, satellites and vehicle-to-infrastructure connections, are already on the streets of Detroit. One of the vehicles will be on display at ArtPrize 2018 later this month in Grand Rapids.

Goals for the project include:

Research the potential to use an autonomous shuttle service to provide public transit to neighborhoods traditionally underserved by public transit.

Research, understand and define vehicle and infrastructure standards by accessibility.

Provide autonomous vehicle service with low wait times through downtown Grand Rapids.

Share rider acceptance feedback and ride request and fulfillment information with the city of Grand Rapids and Start Garden to understand audience acceptance of new, autonomous transit options.

Generate print and video collateral to introduce and educate the public on autonomous service capabilities and the overall technology.

May Mobility would be responsible for insurance and the proper licensing and permitting for the shuttle. The organization would also ask riders for feedback on their experience.

At the end of the pilot, the group would provide a written assessment of the challenges and opportunities for future autonomous vehicle shuttle services in Grand Rapids.

Bliss said the city's private partners have shown a lot of interest in the project. The pilot framework has included work with companies through May Mobility and the Seamless Partnership at Start Garden.

Funding for the project was included in budget discussion for fiscal year 2019, but the Grand Rapids City Commission would have to approve the expenditure at a future meeting.

©2018 The Grand Rapids Press, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.