RIDOT Launches Autonomous Shuttle Bus Pilot Project

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation activated self-driving shuttle bus service on May 15. Dubbed the “Little Roady Shuttle,” the experimental service will operate seven days a week along a 12-stop, 5.3-mile circuit from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. between Olneyville Square and Providence Station.

The agency said in a statement that the “wait time” for the shuttles should average 10 minutes, while total trip time will be about 20 to 25 minutes each way from Providence Station to Olneyville Square.

[Above photo by RIDOT.]

The Little Roady shuttles are provided by May Mobility, Inc., which entered into a public-private partnership with RIDOT last fall with options to extend this self-driving shuttle service for another two years.

The cost of the project, including the research component, is approximately $1.2 million, RIDOT said, which includes funding for an $800,000 public-private partnership with May Mobility, a $500,000 grant awarded by the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office as part of a settlement with Volkswagen, federal research funds through the Federal Highway Administration, and matching state funds.


RIDOT said the shuttles use a suite of sensors combined with “intelligent software” to help the vehicle understand its environment and how to safely navigate through it. The entire Little Roady shuttle fleet has undergone 500 hours of testing both at Quonset Point this winter and in Providence this spring, the agency noted, which included “detail mapping” so the vehicles “know every inch” of their route and how to operate in a variety of traffic and weather conditions.

Photo by RIDOT

“This project will provide valuable data for states across the country as we move beyond conventional transit service,” noted RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, Jr., in a statement. “Our transportation agency has literally been rebuilt to effectively deliver safer roads and bridges while simultaneously studying and piloting new technologies. In doing so, we’ll keep Rhode Island well ahead of the curve for the transportation solutions of tomorrow.”

He added that the debut of those autonomous shuttle buses is the “latest step “in a multi-agency effort called the Rhode Island Transportation Innovation Partnership or TRIP, which RIDOT launched in 2017. TRIP also includes a research component, with the goal of studying autonomous mobility solutions, ridership, workforce impacts, environmental impacts, and technology adoption, among others.

RIDOT noted that TRIP includes many partner agencies and governmental entities, including the City of Providence, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles and the Quonset Development Corporation.

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