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Grand Rapids, Mich., Relaunches Driverless Shuttles

Grand Rapids’ autonomous shuttle pilot is relaunching soon with a host of new cleaning tools that officials say will help to ensure passenger safety amid the ongoing dangers of the coronavirus pandemic.

by Michael Kransz, MLive.com / August 24, 2020
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(TNS) — The Grand Rapids, Mich., autonomous shuttle pilot is relaunching with a host of new cleaning tools that officials say will ensure passenger safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

May Mobility and Grand Rapids officials announced Monday, Aug. 24, all eight autonomous shuttles will resume regular service Aug. 31.

Using routine ultraviolet light treatments, driver-passenger partitions, disinfectant solutions and foggers, officials expressed confidence that riders will be protected from COVID-19 transmission during their trips.

“I am so proud of the May Mobility team for coming together with our partners to find the right combination of cleaning technologies to get the shuttles back in service in Grand Rapids -- this is a perfect example of how nimble and innovative we can be as a company,” Edwin Olson, founder and CEO of May Mobility, said in a statement.

“The Grand Rapids shuttle program also demonstrates our company mission of delivering safe, efficient transportation options that will ultimately improve cities.”

Ann Arbor-based May Mobility, which is the city’s primary partner on the autonomous shuttle pilot, suspended the service March 16 to prevent passengers from spreading or catching COVID-19 during rides.

While the service was launched as a one-year pilot starting on July 2019 and ending July 2020, the service suspension pushes the new end date to early January 2021 to compensate for the months of inactivity.

The pilot program has a price tag of $650,000 and aims to assess the barriers and benefits of implementing further self-driving shuttle services in the city. Grand Rapids funded $250,000 of the project, and private-sector partners picked up the remaining $400,000.

Regular service hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday will resume with the relaunch. The regular service route along the city’s existing DASH West bus route will resume as well.

The DASH West route is 3.2 miles long and takes passengers around downtown. It has stops near more than 10 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.

There is no fee to ride in the shuttles, which have a top speed of 25 mph.

“We are pleased to return (the Grand Rapids Autonomous Vehicle Initiative) to the streets in a safe and responsive way,” Josh Naramore, director of the City’s Mobile GR and Parking Services Department, said in a statement. “The (Grand Rapids Autonomous Vehicle Initiative) pilot continues to be an innovative and popular option for travelers while advancing autonomous vehicle technology in Grand Rapids.”

All eight autonomous shuttles will now feature a partition between passengers and the attendant, who at times will take over the vehicle’s manual controls to improve the ride.

Related: How driverless are Grand Rapids’ autonomous shuttles?

The partition reduces passenger seating from five to four. Passengers also can no longer ride with strangers and must either ride alone or with members of their household or party. The attendant and all passengers are required to wear masks.

In addition to social distancing measures, May Mobility is also deploying air conditioner filters and disinfection measures to kill any lingering COVID-19 pathogens between rides.

Between every ride, officials say they will deploy a treatment of ultraviolet C light. GHSP, the Holland-based company that makes the product, claims a five minute treatment with grenlite will “disable” up to 99.9 percent of germs and pathogens, including human coronavirus, according to May Mobility.

Staff will also wipe down the entire shuttle interior daily and use a disinfectant dry fogger to reach crevices and areas not where sprays, UV lights and wipes can’t. The dry fogger system is a product of Halosil International.

Lastly, May Mobility has deployed MERV 13 air filters in both zones of the shuttles’ dual zone air conditioners. These filters can be easily replaced on a regular basis, officials say.

“In Michigan, resiliency and innovation is in our DNA, and it’s never been more apparent than during this global pandemic,” Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for the State of Michigan, said in a statement.

“Ensuring transportation options are not only safe but also meet the biohealth concerns of Michigan residents is a massive undertaking. We are so grateful to May Mobility for their continued dedication to making sure that accessible and inclusive transportation options exist for everyone in our communities.”

©2020 MLive.com, Walker, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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