Grand Rapids rolling out autonomous shuttles


An autonomous shuttle by May Mobility. Photo by Ehren Wynder

Grand Rapids has partnered with eight local organizations to roll out the next stage in public transit.

The Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative aims to place self-driving vehicles on the streets. The initiative will pilot four May Mobility six-seat electric shuttles on the streets of downtown Grand Rapids from March 2019 to March 2020.

The autonomous fleet will operate complementary to the City of Grand Rapids' DASH services and will be free for riders as well.

Partners on the project include May Mobility, Consumers Energy, Faurecia, Gentex, Rockford Construction, Start Garden, Seamless and Steelcase, as well as the city itself. All partners in the coalition are contributing either direct or in-kind funding to the Initiative.

“The City of Grand Rapids is the best, real-world testing ground for new and future mobility technologies,” said Josh Naramore, director of Mobile GR and Parking Services, City of Grand Rapids. “Our city 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 businesses alike.”

The route will operate on a 3.2-mile section of the city’s existing DASH West route. The route connects downtown Grand Rapids to the West Side and Heartside business districts and includes 22 stops near key places like the YMCA, Amway Grand Plaza, Rosa Parks Circle, KCAD, Van Andel Arena and The B.O.B.

“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,” said Edwin Olsen, founder and CEO, May Mobility.

Shuttles are based on the Polaris Gem e6 electric vehicle and have a top speed of 25 m.p.h. Vehicles come equipped with emergency controls at the front to be operated by a “fleet attendant” during the trial period. Shuttles should arrive at each stop every four to six minutes from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays.

The shuttles will be parked at Rockford Construction’s West Side offices.

The initiative itself will focus on three areas during operation: feasibility or how these vehicles impact existing urban structures; accessibility or how vehicles will impact mobility for the elderly and people with disabilities; and community or how to prepare residents and stakeholders for the effects of autonomous vehicles.

The coalition's partners will also have access to understanding feasibility and accessibility, as well as how the program impacts the community.

Project timeline

— December 2018: Operations facility will be installed at Rockford Construction
— February 2019: Charging stations for fleet vehicles will be installed. Vehicles will arrive in Grand Rapids
— March 2019: May Mobility begins operation on DASH bus route
— March 2020: Test period ends

May Mobility was launched in 2017 as an autonomous vehicle startup and is based in Ann Arbor.

The company deploys fleets of driverless vehicles for both governmental and business customers.

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