Dec 18, 2023 - Technology

Arizona retirees to get free rides in driverless minivans

One of May Mobility's driverless vans. Photo courtesy May Mobility

One of May Mobility's driverless vans. Photo: Courtesy May Mobility

Autonomous driving startup May Mobility is launching its first fully driverless service on public roads in Sun City, Arizona, a retirement community northwest of Phoenix.

Why it matters: It's an important milestone for the Toyota-backed startup, coming just two months after a larger rival, General Motors-owned Cruise, suspended operations nationwide after a high-profile pedestrian accident.

What's happening: May Mobility, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is starting slowly, with just two autonomous minivans operating without a safety operator in a 4.5-mile service area within Sun City.

  • The company has been testing its shuttles with a backup safety driver there since April.
  • Now a select group of "early riders" will be able to experience the fully driverless service in partnership with Via, a transit tech company.
  • After an initial phase, May Mobility plans to add more vehicles and riders in a larger area.

Details: Early riders can use May Mobility's app to request a driverless shuttle pickup to and from a variety of popular stops, including resident complexes, grocery stores, pharmacies and medical centers.

  • The shared, on-demand free service begins Dec. 19.
  • Initially, it will operate Monday through Friday each afternoon.

The big picture: Self-contained retirement communities are an ideal place to launch autonomous vehicles because the slower, simpler roads are typically easier to master.

  • Plus, there's an unmet need from aging seniors who no longer drive but still want the freedom to go where they want.

What they're saying: Edwin Olson, CEO and co-founder of May Mobility, called the launch "a cornerstone for our commercial growth and expansion moving forward."

  • "We believe it is critical to work closely with our key strategic partners, regulators, insurers and riders as we roll out our technology step-by-step."

Of note: May Mobility is different from other robotaxi companies because it partners directly with cities and transit agencies to identify gaps in their public transportation systems.

  • That micro-transit strategy, Olson tells Axios, is a "more scalable" approach to autonomy.
  • The company gets paid by cities or transit agencies, not by individual fares — which Olson believes will make May Mobility "the first profitable AV company."
  • May Mobility also operates shared, on-demand transit shuttles — with a backup safety operator — in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Arlington, Texas; and Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
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