May 10, 2023 - Transit

Sun City gets new driverless public transportation option

A May Mobility van in Sun City. Photo: Courtesy of May Mobility

Old, meet new.

State of play: Residents of Sun City, an Arizona retirement community, can now access public transportation powered by a trendy new engineering development: driverless cars.

Why it matters: The groups behind the service hope it will fill transportation gaps experienced by older adults, providing quick access to assistance and facilities in the community, like senior centers, doctor's offices and grocery stores.

How it works: Using a sponsorship from AARP, transportation companies May Mobility and Via are providing two autonomous Toyota Siennas that stop at 11 area locations from 7am to 5pm Monday through Friday. The rides are free to residents, who either use an app for booking, much as they do with Uber, or call a number to schedule a ride.

  • The driverless cars will take riders directly to their destination, unless there's another passenger in need of a pickup along the way.
  • One of the vehicles has an ADA-accessible wheelchair ramp.
  • There's still a person behind the wheel to monitor the car's operations, answer rider questions and help passengers with accessibility challenges.

Of note: Via chief revenue officer Dillon Twombly told us that while it's important to have the call-in option for people who don't have smartphones, older clients in other cities have learned how to use the app and prefer it because it allows them to monitor when their ride will arrive.

Zoom out: A similar autonomous service launched last year in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

  • More than 50% of riders there are 60 years or older, and 25% use wheelchairs, May Mobility director of government business Daisy Wall said.

What they're saying: "Having inclusive, accessible transportation is very important in general. We know that it impacts people's quality of life," Wall says. "So we're making sure [autonomous vehicle] innovation becomes part of overall transportation in a way that's very inclusive."

What's next: Neighboring areas in metro Phoenix have expressed interest in introducing autonomous public transportation as well, Wall says. She hopes the success of the Sun City program will lead to further expansion in the Valley.


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