(CBS DETROIT) – In a Detroit first, a self-driving, accessible, paratransit shuttle is being deployed to transport senior citizens and the underserved to and from appointments and other needs at a local hospital.
The deployment – a partnership between Navya, NextEnergy, Bestmile, Flagstar Bank, IXR Mobility, and AARP, as well as DTE, and Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification PlanetM – aims to enhance accessibility for residents of two communities, Brush Park Manor Senior Center and Brewster Homes, through the use of a self-driving shuttle featuring an ADA compliant wheelchair ramp manufactured by BraunAbility. With these integrations, the service expects to solve the problem many residents of each community face attempting to secure reliable transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and other essential or critical needs.
This operation, the result of a 2019 PlanetM Mobility Grant awarded to Navya to deploy an industry-leading, automated, accessible paratransit shuttle in the City of Detroit (https://www.planetm.com/press-releases/2019/05/five-startups-launching-pilots-addressing-mobility-challenges-in-michigan-planetm-adds-testing-facility-partners/), intends to be instrumental in addressing today’s most critical mobility, accessibility, and transportation difficulties, including congestion reduction and advanced pedestrian and road safety.
“We have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to leverage our state’s robust mobility ecosystem and resources to ensure future transportation solutions better serve our communities,” said Trevor Pawl, the state of Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer. “Through our state’s highly collaborative environment between our public and private sectors, we’re able to utilize next-generation technologies to create a future that prioritizes safer, more inclusive mobility services for residents that live, work and play in our communities, including access to senior citizens and underserved individuals. We’re proud to work together with our partners like Navya in supporting mobility-related projects that have a meaningful impact and create a better quality of life for our residents.”
“Navya is thrilled to work with our partners at NextEnergy, PlanetM, and more to provide a form of increased transport inclusion to two of Detroit’s historic communities,” said Jérôme Rigaud, Chief Operating Officer of Navya Corporation. “This route and those it strives to aid the most, coupled with the accessible nature of the service that features an ADA compliant wheelchair ramp manufactured by market leader BraunAbility, are an ideal foundation to highlight how self-driving vehicles can provide an on-demand solution to our transportation needs that never deviates from its rules.”
Starting mid-August 2020, a Navya Autonom® Shuttle commenced operating along a pre-programmed 1.31-mile route, with an on-board safety operator overseeing the vehicle, provided by IXR Mobility. While the shuttle strives to perform to its fullest capability of autonomy, the on-board attendant serves a multitude of safety purposes during this operation that make safety first priority, including educating passengers on the shuttle’s technology and assisting passengers with boarding and egressing. This operation is important for “building trust in Autonomous Mobility and connecting disadvantaged transportation, seniors, and people with disabilities to healthcare, local farmers market and pharmacies visits while boarding the Navya self-driving Shuttle,” said Ray Smith, Owner of IXR Mobility and Mobility Inclusion.
The shuttle runs Monday through Friday, serving the residents of Brush Park Senior Center and Brewster Homes during the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm EST, and will operate through mid-October 2020. The shuttle service is closed to the public and open exclusively to residents of each community.
“Brush Park Manor applauds the opportunity to participate in such an innovative service for our Seniors. With transportation being one of the most difficult challenges for Seniors, this service will ensure they have the expediency, efficiency, and safety to access reliable transportation,” said E. Kern Tomlin, the Chairman of Brush Park Manor Board of Directors.
The complimentary shuttle service offers a unique solution for those who may not have the capability to take advantage of traditional transportation options; namely, senior citizens, the disabled, and those who do not own traditional transport or can’t afford the costs associated with traditional transport. Amplifying the accessible and inclusive nature of the service is a fully ADA compliant wheelchair ramp, manufactured by BraunAbility specifically for the Navya shuttle. As the global leader in mobility solutions in transportation, BraunAbility is experienced in providing innovative, wheelchair accessibility in all types of vehicles. “BraunAbility invested in this innovative venture because we believe in its impact and importance,” stated Staci Kroon, CEO of BraunAbility. “Autonomous travel will be an integral part of public and private transportation in the future, and people with physical disabilities deserve equal access to these new modes of travel.”
Aiding in the service is Bestmile, the global leader in fleet orchestration and optimization for self-driving vehicles. Bestmile’s platform and mobile apps will enable the residents of Brush Park Manor and Brewster Homes to benefit from a predictable and reliable self-driving transit service. “Bestmile is excited to be deploying our world class technology along with Navya to better serve the community.” said Raphael Gindrat, CEO and cofounder of Bestmile. “We are uniquely positioned to support this project by our ability to power both on-demand and time-based services from the same platform.”
The team has also undertaken significant measures to increase safety and sanitation of the shuttle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Passengers and operators are required to wear masks and invited to social distance by using and respecting the designated seating areas. Seats and surfaces are sanitized between each trip, with a touch-less hand sanitizer dispenser on board along with anti-bacterial, viral, and alcohol-based wipes available. The shuttle service follows sanitation guidelines as implemented by state and federal governments.
Assisting in the operation is NextEnergy, a partner to PlanetM and a state of Michigan entity supporting the funding and fiduciary services to support successful pilot launch. “We are pleased to collaborate with the project team to activate the Navya autonomous shuttle solution to provide clean, smart, and accessible mobility to medical care for Detroit’s elderly, people with disabilities and veterans,” says NextEnergy CEO Jim Saber.
Partnered on the project is Flagstar Bank, a Michigan financial staple. “Flagstar Bank is proud to be part of this Detroit initiative to improve access to reliable transportation—a widely recognized challenge in Detroit neighborhoods—with state-of-the-art autonomous vehicle technology. We look for this project to be a window into a future of leveraging technology to improve the quality of life for Detroiters, particularly those in underserved communities.” says Brandon Lewis, Vice President, Community Reinvestment.
Synonymous with powering Detroit, it also makes sense that DTE Energy partner on the project to support the message behind the shuttle’s electric charging capabilities. “This initiative will provide green, reliable transportation to Detroit – and DTE is honored to be a part of it,” said Robert Feldmann, Executive Director of DTE Electric Sales and Marketing. “It brings cutting-edge technology to fill an unmet need in the community.”
© 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.