City of Detroit Office of Mobility Innovation to launch new ADS shuttle pilot program in 2024

July 28, 2023
The program will utilize self-driving vehicle technology to help citizens who are age 65 and older or living with disabilities from their home to destinations at no cost to the rider.

The City of Detroit Office of Mobility Innovation is launching a new shuttle pilot program in 2024 to explore the promise self-driving technology holds in helping residents facing mobility barriers get to their destinations. The Detroit Automated Driving Systems (ADS) Shuttle program will utilize self-driving vehicle technology to get citizens who are age 65 and older or living with disabilities from their home to the store, doctor appointments, their job or other destinations at no cost to the rider.

On July 25, Detroit City Council voted unanimously to approve the Office of Mobility Innovation’s $2.4 million contract with May Mobility to provide the shuttle service, which is expected to be operational by fall 2024. Building on prior community engagement and research work to identify deployment zones for this service, the next round of community engagement process will begin in fall 2023 to define service routes for the pilot to operate.

“As mobility technology advances, it’s important we use it to make sure our most vulnerable residents can more easily access the services and amenities that are vital to their quality of life,” said Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan. “Detroit always has been a global leader in transportation innovation. It's the perfect city to develop this pilot project."

ADS pilot follows 18 months of research and development

The deployment phase of the project follows a phase of engagement and research that began in January 2022.

The city received grant funding through the United States Department of Transportation Automated Driving System Demonstration Grant and philanthropic partners, Knight Foundation and Delta Dental Foundation. The initial kickoff of the project began in January 2022, with community engagement studies conducted by project partners. The project is funded through 2026.

How it will work

The pilot project is being led by the Michigan Mobility Collaborative (MMC), a public-private partnership developed to support a mission of developing mobility solutions for older adults and people with disabilities.

The MMC is currently in the process of designing a self-driving shuttle service that can be scheduled in advance and have on-demand capabilities. Whether they need to get to the store, a doctor’s appointment or social activities, the shuttle will pick each rider up at their home, take them to one of the predefined destinations and return them back home. Riders will have the option to pre-book roundtrip rides through a mobile app, website or reach out to a call center to book trips with a live representative. In addition, the ADS shuttle will be available to citizens who possibly cannot take advantage of traditional paratransit services because they do not meet paratransit eligibility requirements.

The city’s Director of Disability Affairs Christopher Samp said he is excited to see how this pilot will improve the quality of life for Detroiters with disabilities, who face barriers to goods, services and social opportunities due to a lack of mobility options.

“Accessible self-driving shuttles for people with disabilities is a game changer,” Samp said. “A person with a disability will be able to use this service to simply go directly to their destination. Some individuals with a disability who are not able to obtain a driving license can reclaim their independence with the ability to travel with self-driving cars.”

Next steps

Starting in fall 2023, outreach and recruitment, vehicle safety testing and mobile application development will take place to meet the project goal of having shuttles in service by spring 2024. Throughout the pilot, data will be used to inform the scale and efficiency of the project locally and the potential for use globally. During this program, the city of Detroit is conducting extensive community engagement to better understand the needs of residents regarding feasibility, access and public safety. To guide the advancement of equitable self-driving technology, project leaders seek to work collaboratively to expand public trust and understanding of these systems that can be tailored for them.

“The Detroit ADS project gives us the opportunity to solve for some of the challenges that matter the most to Detroiters, starting with a solution tailored for residents currently experiencing mobility barriers,” said Detroit Chief of Mobility Innovation Tim Slusser. “We are solving for how self-driving vehicle technology can be integrated into our existing transportation network while leading with what it will take to gain a high level of public trust. We want Detroiters to feel safe and well-informed riding on and sharing the road with autonomous vehicles.”