Maybe, May Mobility


From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

May Mobility’s year-long free shuttle small-bus service between the Rhode Island State House and Providence’s hip Olneyville neighborhood is getting underway. These vehicles have attendants who can override the vehicles’ computers, just to be super safe, but the buses are supposed to be self-driving – i.e., ‘’autonomous.’’ The company calls its “Little Rhody’’ pilot project the first attempt at autonomous public transit in the country; it will serve as a research project that will probably get a lot of national attention.

I assume that the ultimate plan is to have no attendants (or maybe call them emergency drivers) – perhaps another scary sign to people contemplating becoming bus, cab or Uber/Lyft drivers for want of other job options.

After all, how long could such a service continue if attendants must be paid to travel around with so few passengers per vehicle? These mini-buses carry only six passengers. I assume that there will eventually be a modest charge for these rides. But when will many passengers feel safe to travel in buses without attendants, even if data show that they’re much safer than vehicles driven by people?

In any event, it’s an exciting project. If people flock to it, it could revolutionize urban and even suburban travel by getting more people out of their cars, and it could be a boon to further redevelopment of Olneyville while reducing the necessity of having so many wind-swept parking lots.