City joins public-private coalition to bring autonomous vehicles to GR

Published on September 28, 2018

Photo of a May Mobility six-seat electric shuttle

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Nine Michigan companies and the City of Grand Rapids have come together to form a unique coalition that will place autonomous vehicles on city streets in March 2019. The Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative is the next big step to prove that civic infrastructure can support the ever-evolving, ever-expanding operational capabilities of the rapidly approaching autonomous vehicle market.

The Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative will bring four May Mobility six-seat electric shuttles to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids from March 2019 to March 2020. This first-of-its -kind coalition brings together enterprise and infrastructure to gather and analyze critical information to understand the usage of autonomous vehicles and their environments. The fleet will operate complementary to the City’s existing DASH transportation fleet. Shuttles will be free for riders.

Consisting of internationally renowned companies including May Mobility, Consumers Energy, Faurecia, Gentex, Rockford Construction, Seamless and Steelcase and public organizations including the City of Grand Rapids and Start Garden, the coalition supporting the Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative includes the people who design and build the environments we live, work and move in every day.

“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, the City’s Mobile GR Parking Services manager. “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.”

The Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative will operate on a 3.2-mile section of the city’s existing DASH West bus route, which provides access to both downtown Grand Rapids and the city’s West Side and Heartside business districts. The route includes 22 stops, 30 traffic lights and 12 turns, including three left turns. As a commuter-driven service, the DASH West provides connectivity to more than 10 City-owned parking lots and points of interest that include: David D. Hunting YMCA, Kendall College of Art & Design, Grand Rapids Children's Museum, Van Andel Arena and Bridge Street Market. 

“Across the U.S., cities are seeking cost-effective, safe and reliable transportation services that will improve congestion and convert cities into more livable and green spaces. Self-driving shuttles are a great solution,” said Edwin Olson, founder and CEO of May Mobility. “As we strive to make transportation more accessible and convenient, we’re thrilled to be working with the City of Grand Rapids and partners to accelerate a path toward a future where the people of Grand Rapids can drive less and live more.”

Unlike any autonomous project of its kind, the Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative will achieve the type of systems integrations and learnings in months what would normally take years. Fleet operations for the May Mobility vehicles will be housed at Rockford Construction’s West Side offices within Circuit West, an area that boasts an innovative electric generation and distribution system. This will also create a direct local connection between the vehicles and the community. The coalition will host conversations with community stakeholders to thoughtfully and intentionally address accessibility of the vehicles.

“May Mobility’s technology is changing how we drive, how we navigate, how we get around. People are an integral component of this equation, and the Initiative can provide context for the ways autonomous technology integrates with our essential community systems, including employment, health care, housing, entertainment and retail,” said Mike Morin, principal of Start Garden and Seamless. “Unlike any other arrangement of its kind, our public-private coalition will test and inform safe, effective and convenient autonomous public transportation and prepare it to be deployed in other parts of our world.”

The Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative will focus on three areas during its operation:

Feasibility — Little research has been done on the impact of mobility on our cities, yet every change in transport technology has transformed them. The autonomous vehicle initiative is designed to gain insight and understand how it impacts existing urban structures.

Accessibility — Address how autonomous vehicles improve or impact mobility for the elderly and people with disabilities, and explore solutions around design of interiors and the urban environment to facilitate accessibility.

Community — Prepare the local community and neighborhoods for the effects of autonomous mobility. This is a priority for the initiative and will include open sessions for community stakeholders for community visioning, goal setting, plan making and recommendations for public investments.

The coalition’s approach will include partnering with developers, urban planners, accessibility experts and community stakeholders to understand their needs and design solutions that will build trust and capability with the autonomous technology created by May Mobility.