Continuing its drive as an innovative tech leader, the City of Fishers’ is introducing a fleet of autonomous vehicle as a mode of free public transportation in the Nickel Plate District.
Several organizations have partnered with the city to bring six shuttles to downtown Fishers. May Mobility, a leader in the autonomous vehicle industry, equipped the shuttles with the technology and will operate them. There are five hybrid Lexus RX 450h vehicles and one wheelchair-accessible Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle. The shuttles began offering rides Dec. 20. They are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Shuttles arrive every 10 to 15 minutes on a rotating loop.
Autonomous vehicles will provide free, public shuttle service for the next six months in the area surrounding the Nickel Plate Cultural District.
May Mobility Customer Success Manager Fawna Tucker said it may not be clear to pedestrians that the shuttles are self-driven, even though each has a human operator.
“There is a human person operating the vehicle who is able to take over in the event of an emergency or in the event of rider comfort,” Tucker said. “If (riders) are experiencing discomfort or feeling nervous about high-traffic areas, we can always take over to reiterate safety.”
The shuttle service is part of the Together in Motion Indiana initiative announced earlier this year by Toyota Mobility Foundation and Energy Systems Network. The initiative recently wrapped up a pilot program in downtown Indianapolis last month.
The hop-on, hop-off service connects residential areas at Pullman Pointe and South Pointe Village apartments to a commercial district along Commercial Drive and Fishers Corner Boulevard, Municipal Drive and 116th Street, and on the Nickel Plate Trail. Each stop is equipped with a sign that displays route information, coupled with a QR code with more information about May Mobility’s technology. The vehicles are mapped to operate on a specific route, so if there are deviations — such as a road closure or construction — the human operator will manually operate the car.
“Our engineering team created a blueprint for the vehicle to know where to operate and how to operate in that space,” Tucker said.
With its lack of public transportation options, Tucker said the City of Fishers is the ideal landscape for May Mobility’s technology.
“Different cities and different partners can bring different use cases to the table,” Tucker said. “What’s really unique about fishers is we are looking at the transportation ecosystem Fishers has. We typically look at connecting other modes of transportation and help build an ecosystem for mobility, but Fishers doesn’t have a ton of transportation options. There’s a lot of single-family residents, heavy car use, and parking structures galore.
“We are really looking at the city at what are some of the pain points and how do we address them with this cool innovation and technology?”
Tucker said May Mobility’s autonomous vehicles might “alleviate some of those headaches” that business owners and pedestrians experience because of high traffic.
“With our commitment to innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, it was a natural fit for Fishers to serve as the first suburban site for May Mobility’s autonomous vehicle fleet,” Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness stated in a press release. “Our Nickel Plate Cultural District is the perfect test site for this technology as our partners identify the nuances of a suburban environment for autonomous technology.”
The Fishers pilot program is expected to end in June 2022. Riders can see live updates of the shuttle’s locations on the Together in Motion Indiana at toyotamobilityfoundation.org/en/tim-fishers/.
May Mobility Customer Success Manager Fawna Tucker said she hopes the company can partner with the City of Fishers when the six-month pilot program ends.
“Our intention is to become a partner in the community to help solve transportation problems,” Tucker said. “We want to establish ourselves as a community partner and as a vendor of trust.”
Tucker said May Mobility might be a good long-term fit for Fishers, especially since the city has established itself as a technology and innovation hub.
“We are really excited to be a part of that,” Tucker said. “The use case specifically in Fishers is unique to a lot of other deployments we’ve had based in a metropolitan-type city because we are going into the more urban area of fishers. We are excited to see how micro mobility can be used.”