May Mobility Starts ADA-Compliant AV Transit for Rural Area

A new fleet of automated, ADA-compliant minivans is the first to offer public rideshare service in a non-urban environment.

May Mobility’s latest AV rideshare service uses variants of Toyota’s Sienna minivan modified for use by automated-driving system developers. (May Mobility)

Automated-driving system developer May Mobility confirmed in late September that it launched what it called the first public-transit project to deploy American Disability Act (ADA)-compliant AVs in rural America. The mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) effort, based on a 17-square-mile footprint in and around Grand Rapids, Minnesota, offers free rides to anyone, but in particular is intended to serve “those without a private car or who have mobility challenges — with the aim of using technology to help everyone achieve an independent lifestyle supported by convenient travel, regardless of income or ability,” said Ann Arbor, Mich.-based May Mobility in a release.

In response to written questions from SAE Media, the company said the project’s fleet initially is comprised of five wheelchair-accessible variants of Toyota-made Sienna minivans. The vehicles, which Toyota calls the Sienna Autono-MaaS, or S-AM, are modified at Toyota’s assembly plant in Princeton, Indiana. The S-AM is intended to serve as the platform for third-party automated-driving developers such as May Mobility to install their driving systems, as well as various sensors and other hardware required to enable varying degrees of automated operation. Toyota started delivering the completed FMVSS-compliant Sienna S-AM vehicles to May Mobility and Aurora Innovation in Fall 2021.

The service’s logistics are backed by Via, which supplies its AI-based booking and routing algorithms. The company said some 600 communities in more than 35 countries currently employ its public-mobility systems that optimize networks of buses, shuttles, wheelchair-accessible vehicles, school buses, autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles.

“We’re passionate about making transportation better for everyone, and providing innovative, accessible transportation solutions to rural communities is a key next step in that journey,” said Edwin Olson, CEO of May Mobility. “May Mobility and Via are proud to bring cutting-edge technology and services to Grand Rapids with the first commercial fleet of Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS vehicles.”

May Mobility said in a release that it hopes the Grand Rapids project will demonstrate that AVs “reach their greatest societal impact when used for public transportation.” In response to questions, it said the rides are initiated on-demand and are intended to be shared with other riders whenever possible; each user employs an app to input a desired pickup and dropoff location among the 70-plus pickup/dropoff locations that were established based on popular travel patterns and community input. Users who do not have smartphones also can book by calling 211.

Useful new ODDs

May Mobility noted to SAE Media that it currently is operating wheelchair-accessible AVs in all U.S. cities in which it’s currently operating — Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Mich. and Arlington, Texas, but the new deployment in Minnesota is expected to be a vital experience because of its more rural character. Valuable learning also is expected from the AVs’ exposure to harsh weather conditions and rural terrain. Operation in inclement weather is a particular test for externally located perception systems based on lidar, radar and ultrasonic sensors.

Although the new deployment Minnesota provides new ODD tests, the company said it will continue to use human Autonomous Vehicle Operators in the Sienna S-AM automated vehicles — “with the goal of removing them” by the fourth quarter of 2023. Wheelchair-accessible vehicles can complicate the ingress/egress process, so it is deemed crucial to for now to have Autonomous Vehicle Operators who also can help to facilitate use for wheelchair-using riders.