On-demand, self-driving cars come to Grand Rapids

May Mobility's new on-demand service includes four May Mobility Lexus RX450h vehicles and one wheelchair-accessible Polaris GEM equipped with May Mobility’s autonomous technology. Courtesy May Mobility

May Mobility, along with the city of Grand Rapids, Via and Gentex announced the launch of the next stage in autonomous vehicle services for the city.

The expanded service began July 26 as part of phase 2 of the Grand Rapids Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (AVGR) and transitions the prior fixed-route AV service into a flexible system in a new service zone.

“We look forward to continuing our partnership with the city of Grand Rapids through an expanded zone in the downtown area,” said Edwin Olson, co-founder and CEO of May Mobility. “The new service allows us to explore transportation needs in new areas of the community and provides additional opportunities for people to experience safer, greener, more accessible transportation through autonomous mobility.”

The service, which includes four May Mobility Lexus RX450h vehicles and one wheelchair-accessible Polaris GEM equipped with May Mobility’s autonomous technology, operates within a 1.36-square-mile service zone that includes more than 20 designated pickup and drop-off areas in downtown Grand Rapids. The May Mobility AV shuttles are free to ride and operate from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday.

May Mobility’s 1.36-square-mile service zone includes more than 20 designated pick up and drop-off areas in downtown Grand Rapids. Courtesy May Mobility

“The city of Grand Rapids has enjoyed its partnership with May Mobility to provide innovative mobility options through the Grand Rapids Autonomous Vehicle Initiative,” said Justin Kimura, assistant director of Mobile GR. “We look forward to embarking on this next phase together and support continued development of autonomous mobility technology while providing another equitable mobility option to connect underserved neighborhoods in Ward 1 to the downtown area.”

May Mobility has adopted Via’s autonomous fleet platform to power booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience and fleet management.

The two partners have a long-term strategy to introduce driverless on-demand shared transit systems in multiple locations. The Grand Rapids launch follows the companies’ joint RAPID autonomous vehicle service in Arlington, Texas. RAPID offers autonomous vehicle rides as part of the city of Arlington’s large on-demand public transit service with Via and is the first of its kind in the U.S.

“In order for autonomous vehicles to reach their full potential as part of large-scale transit networks, they must be on-demand, optimally routed and shared by multiple passengers,” said Cariann Chan, senior vice president of business for Via. “We are proud to work with May Mobility to offer Via’s flexible platform to help achieve this goal and to play a leading role in this new era of efficient and equitable transportation solutions in Grand Rapids.”

Riders can request vehicles within the designated area of service by downloading the May Mobility mobile application, which is available for both Android and iOS devices. The app shows the rider the nearest pickup location and suggested drop-off location within the closest proximity to their point of interest.

For those inclined to leave their possessions behind on public transportation, May Mobility and Gentex are working together to integrate a data capture system with sensing pods into the self-driving shuttles that will help the companies develop technology to track objects, monitor passenger health and safety and keep the vehicle clean and operational.

“We’re excited to continue our partnership with May Mobility,” said Neil Boehm, Gentex chief technology officer. “This service expansion not only provides the city with a unique, supplemental public transport hub but also acts as a real-world laboratory for studying, evaluating and testing various safety and convenience components necessary to better support passengers in the autonomous age.”

To celebrate the launch, May Mobility and MobileGR will host demonstration rides from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 24 at the YMCA Grand Rapids, 475 Lake Michigan Drive NW.

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