New Autonomous Shuttle Connects Detroit Seniors with Local Hospital

For the first time, 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 Detroit hospital.
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autonomous shuttle
A partnership of agencies across the state is deploying an autonomous shuttle that will transport senior citizens and the underserved to and from the hospital for appointments. // Photo courtesy of Navya

For the first time, 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 Detroit 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 — will enhance accessibility for residents of two communities, Brush Park Manor Senior Center and Brewster Homes.

The self-driving shuttle features an ADA compliant wheelchair ramp manufactured by BraunAbility.

With the integrations, the service helps residents of each community face attempting to secure reliable transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and other essential or critical needs at the Detroit Medical Center.

This operation, the result of a 2019 PlanetM Mobility Grant awarded to Navya to deploy an industry-leading, automated, accessible paratransit shuttle in Detroit, intends to be instrumental in addressing today’s most critical mobility, accessibility, and transportation difficulties, including congestion reduction and advanced pedestrian and road safety.

Navya, based in France, operates an assembly plant in Saline. The facility has more than 30 employees.

“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,” says Trevor Pawl, 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.”

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.

Beyond the pure autonomy service, an 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.

The operation is important for “building trust in autonomous mobility and connecting disadvantaged transportation, seniors, and people with disabilities to health care, local farmers markets, and pharmacies (via) the Navya self-driving shuttle,” says Ray Smith, owner of IXR Mobility and Mobility Inclusion.

The shuttle will run Monday through Friday, serving the residents of Brush Park Senior Center and Brewster Homes during the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., 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, board chairman of Brush Park Manor.

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. A

The service is a fully ADA compliant wheelchair ramp, manufactured by BraunAbility specifically for the Navya shuttle.

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.

The team also has 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. Other partners on the project include Flagstar Bank in Troy and DTE Energy in Detroit.

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