Free Self-Driving Car Rides Around Parts of Grand Rapids
You've seen them on the streets of downtown Grand Rapids, but now that service is expanding its boundaries.
The program is the Grand Rapids Autonomous Vehicle Initiative. The city of Grand Rapids has partnered with Ann Arbor-based May Mobility for this experiment. The goal is to figure out the barriers and benefits of implementing self-driving shuttle services in the city.
The first phase began in July 2019 as a pilot program. At its peak there were about 11,000 people a month taking advantage of the shuttles that ran along the pre-set DASH West route in downtown Grand Rapids. Due to COVID-19, those services were halted in March 2020. The service resumed in late August 2020 with new social distancing guidelines and cleaning protocols. Ridership has been down since the service restarted, partly because so many downtown workers are still working from home.
Phase two of the program is now underway. The low-speed Polaris GEM shuttles have been replaced with four road-grade Lexus SUV hybrids. (One of the wheelchair accessible Polaris GEM shuttles will remain in the fleet.)
With this newest phase, people can call for an autonomous vehicle using an app on their smartphone. The vehicle will drive them between downtown and the city's West Side.
This is not a door-to-door pickup and delivery service. Riders will still have to walk to and be dropped off at designated points. There are over 20 specific pick-up and drop-off points in the new 1.36-square-mile service area. People will be able to use this service Monday through Friday from 7 am to 7 pm daily. At this point, the service is not available late nights or on the weekends.
Once you have the app on your smartphone, it will show you the nearest pickup location and also suggest a drop off location that is closest to your destination.
And if you still aren't completely sure you like the idea of riding in an "driverless" car ---there is an attendant in each of the vehicles who can take over driving if it becomes necessary.
This second phase of the pilot program is scheduled to run until April 2022.