Autonomous vehicles will begin offering free rides in Providence

This small fleet of electric autonomous vehicles will offer free rides along a 5.3 mile circuit through Providence's Woonasquatucket RIver corridor - the longest public transit route for autonomous vehicles in the country.

Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Director Peter Alviti, Jr., along with state and local officials, kicked off the Little Roady autonomous vehicle pilot project today in Providence.

This research project to evaluate autonomous mobility technology will go into service tomorrow, Wednesday, May 15.

According to a statment from RIDOT, the free service will be the focus of a research project to help the Department better understand the opportunities and challenges that come with integrating this new technology into RIDOT’s transportation planning. The research will help improve transit and provide information for communities, the workforce, and policymakers.

This experimental service will operate seven days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with 12 stops between Olneyville Square and Providence Station. The Little Roady shuttles will run on a continuous, 5.3-mile loop on low-speed roads with an average wait time of about 10 minutes. Trip time will be about 20-25 minutes each way from Providence Station to Olneyville Square.

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The Little Roady shuttles are provided by May Mobility, Inc., which entered into a public-private partnership with RIDOT last fall, following a competitive request-for-proposals (RFP) process.

The cost of the project, including the research component, is approximately $1.2 million. This includes funding for an $800,000 public-private partnership with May Mobility, a $500,000 grant awarded by the R.I. Attorney General’s Office as part of a settlement with Volkswagen, federal research funds through the Federal Highway Administration, and matching state funds. RIDOT’s contract with May Mobility includes options to extend the service for an additional two years.

The debut of the autonomous vehicles is the latest step in a multi-agency effort called the Rhode Island Transportation Innovation Partnership (TRIP), which RIDOT launched in 2017. TRIP also includes a research component, with the goal of studying autonomous mobility solutions, ridership, workforce impacts, environmental impacts, and technology adoption, among others.

TRIP includes many partner agencies and governmental entities, including the City of Providence, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles and the Quonset Development Corporation. The research team is made up of representatives from Brown University, 3×3 Design, Stae, and Bits and Atoms.

May Mobility, a Michigan-based startup, is developing self-driving shuttles for college campuses, corporate clients, and central business districts. It launched a private corporate service in Detroit in June 2018 and a public service in Columbus, Ohio in December 2018. It has also entered into an agreement for public service in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company has hired fleet attendants and managers from Rhode Island and has set up a local operations office in Providence.

The shuttles use a suite of sensors – including some from Middletown-based KVH Industries – and intelligent software to help the vehicle understand its environment and how to safely navigate through it. The entire fleet has undergone 500 hours of testing both at Quonset Point this winter and in Providence this spring, which included detail mapping so the machines know every inch of its route and how to operate in a variety of traffic and weather conditions.

More information about the Little Roady project can be found at www.LittleRoady.com.