The Evolution of Public Transit: AV Microtransit

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Strategy Analyst, May Mobility

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are the next and most sustainable form of Microtransit.

While most known for buses and trains, many transit agencies are exploring how to incorporate on-demand Microtransit services into their offerings. However, driver shortages and low capacities per vehicle can make on-demand service a challenging investment, especially at scale. AVs, which are reaching full maturity, will be key to expanding on-demand transit service while maintaining costs at a manageable level.

What is Microtransit?

Microtransit is an updated form of shared, on-demand public transportation that uses an app to book rides in selected service zones. The zones are designated by a transit agency, often where buses are challenged. Services are provided within the zone and to/from major transit lines, and typically use minivans or large vans that are big enough to share and small enough to be used in residential neighborhoods. Trip brokering is managed dynamically through an app (or call center) and software that optimizes routing, pick-ups and drop-offs with the goal of keeping waiting times and trips short, balanced with encouraging ride-sharing.

Who is implementing Microtransit and why?

Of the top 100 U.S. Transit Agencies by ridership, over 60 have one or more Microtransit zones and 15 more are planning for it. Microtransit improves access to mobility in low coverage areas, enhances fixed-line bus and rails networks by increasing access and convenience, and has the potential to replace low-performing bus routes in lower-density areas. Riders also prefer more convenience. Microtransit will be an important gateway for many in the community to start to use public transit of all modes.

An illustration of May Mobility's Toyota Sienna accessing office buildings, hospitals, grocery stores, and other public spaces.

Challenges

On-demand service is not a cure-all. Anywhere-to-anywhere mobility as offered by Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber or Lyft, may reduce the need to own a car, parking infrastructure, etc.; but it’s very likely to increase vehicle miles traveled, road usage and congestion. Sharing rides is the key to reducing these and creating more sustainable transit. In urban areas, fixed-route buses can carry more people per hour and are essential in high-density areas. Microtransit balances convenience and shared rides.

Looking Ahead

The ideal shared “Mobility as a Service” systems of the future will be a healthy mix of fixed routes that serve downtown areas and “ridership” corridors, while on-demand Microtransit will provide services where and when buses are most challenged. As autonomous vehicles reduce the cost of  shared transportation, the number of buses and on-demand vehicles can increase, exponentially expanding the usefulness of mobility networks. This makes it easier for individuals to not own a car, incentivizes high-density living and reduces the impacts on the environment and climate. May Mobility is dedicated to transforming cities and is a proud ally of transit agencies, policy makers and transit riders in creating an environment for a thriving planet and humanity!

About The Author

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz is a Strategy Analyst at May Mobility. She focuses on how autonomous vehicles can complement Public Transportation and achieve an equitable and sustainable mobility environment for all members of society. Sarah worked for several years in public transit Southeastern Michigan in strategy leadership, organizational development, and community engagement. Through her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin, West Africa, she became passionate about infrastructure and “community of place.” She has a BA in History and Economics from the University of Michigan and a Masters of Regional Planning from Cornell University.

May encourages employees to spend World Mental Health Day investing in themselves

PHOTO CAPTION: This past weekend, we gathered together to complete the Probility Ann Arbor Marathon event (both live and virtually). This event was chosen because we deeply support its cause – “e-Race the Stigma” – Raising Awareness Around Mental Health. May Mobility was the largest corporate wellness partner for the event with over 80 participants and volunteers present.

by Amanda Krause, Director of People Operations

At May Mobility, total wellness is paramount to the success of our people.  While our vehicles may drive themselves, it’s our people who drive our success.  This means we prioritize investing in their overall health in really meaningful ways. 

October 10th is World Mental Health Day. We seek to raise awareness and support around mental wellness regularly, but this year we have intentionally chosen to add World Mental Health Day to our list of paid holidays.   We are proud to honor World Mental Health Day by providing employees the opportunity to unplug, recharge and invest in themselves and their loved ones. 

Additionally, we offer all of our employees free access to Headspace and Ginger – award winning apps that promote mental wellness, and provide virtual and confidential therapy sessions.

Our Leadership Team is passionate about ensuring that we foster an environment of psychological safety for our whole team. This means not only having the courage to speak out about mental health but also taking action to prove its importance. Together we will continue to prioritize our health and wellness and invest in our greatest asset: our people!

Our Deployments: Free public transportation in Ann Arbor

At May Mobility, we’re committed to transforming cities through autonomous vehicle technology. What does that mean? Well in our hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., it means providing safe and accessible free public transportation.

We aren’t just another taxi service, but rather an autonomous microtransit service. We work with communities to bridge transportation gaps. The A2GO service, provided in collaboration with Via, Mcity, 4M and Ann Arbor SPARK, offers fare-free transit through the streets of downtown. No matter how many times you ride, what time of day it is or where you go, the A2GO service is free of charge—that means tipping, too!

“We look for ways to complement public transit systems, and we’re doing that today in Ann Arbor,” said Customer Success Manager Allison Hegarty. “For example, there is no public transportation to and from the Amtrak station and we wanted to solve that. Hearing feedback from our riders that they’re leveraging our free transport service to ride to and from that area, in addition to commuting to and from school or work or even to go shopping, we’re opening the door and moving people safely throughout the city.”

Our service also takes riders to key locations like Kerrytown, 4M Venue, Yost Arena, the UM campus including the Diag and more. To take a free ride, simply use the May Mobility mobile app (available from Apple and Google Play), and request a ride at any of our pickup locations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Four reasons employees love working at May Mobility

We think May Mobility is a great place to work (and others agree)—but we’re biased. So we asked some of our employees how they feel about May, and got what they said on video. Check out the video and the write up below:

1. The people

Our vehicles may drive themselves, but our people are what makes May great. Several employees cited our supportive, encouraging team that are not only book smart, but emotionally intelligent as well. 

“My favorite part of working at May is the diversity.  There are a bunch of people from different cultures and backgrounds,” said Yusuke Kobune, site manager—Japan. 

“Without a doubt, it’s the smartest group of people I’ve ever worked with,” Lead Manufacturing Engineer Eric Harman said. “And intelligence isn’t only measured in the number of PhDs we have here—we have a lot of folks with PhDs—but emotional intelligence. We have people that are kind and caring, that check in with one another and it creates a really great sense of community.”

2. Shared purpose 

“What I like about May is knowing that coming into work we’re adding value in all the communities that we’re providing all these solutions and services to,” said Product Designer Natalia Kumar.

One of the things that attracts people to May is our unique purpose of making transit more sustainable, safe, accessible and equitable by building a better autonomous vehicle (AV) technology that works in the real world. We believe AVs have the power to transform cities and our cities are making it a reality.

“We solve big, hairy problems,” said Chris Walling, supply chain manager. “That is something I’ve always wanted to do, find those problems that need to be solved at the forefront of technology.”

3. The real-world impact

One of the unique aspects of working at May is getting to see your work’s direct impact in the real world. Our teams—on an individual level—get to see the challenges they take on, reflected in our services across the U.S. and Japan.

“Whenever I see my project running in the real world and people using it as a service, it always makes me happy and makes me see that I’m bringing a change to the world,” said Anirudh Batra, field autonomy engineer. 

4. Innovation 

“My favorite working at May is being able to be at the forefront of this new industry—autonomous vehicles. We’re doing something that’s going to be remembered for the rest of our lives,” said Taylor Gygi, business development manager.

AVs have the potential to change our world in numerous ways, such as making transportation safer and creating room for more green space by eliminating the need for parking structures. 

Want to join the team and experience what May has to offer for yourself? Click here to see job opportunities.

 

Get to know May: Sheryl Seitz, VP of Marketing & Communications

We’re thrilled to introduce our new VP of Marketing & Communications Sheryl Seitz. Her strong background working across B2G, B2B and B2C makes her the perfect addition to drive our mission of transforming cities through autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. Read on to learn about her background and her plans for May Mobility.

What were your roles prior to May?

I’ve always been fascinated with emerging technologies and how they shape the world we live in. I worked for several market leaders including Apple and Samsung before leaving the corporate world for startups. The beauty of working in startups is that you can see your imprint on the business every day, which is enormously gratifying.

The common theme throughout my career is taking complex technologies, new concepts and ideas, and making them understandable on a global stage to the target audience. Helping customers understand the transformational value that technology can have excites me daily. I’ve led campaigns targeting a variety of stakeholder audiences from media and analysts to customers, investors, partners and shareholders.

What brought you to May?

I’m attracted to startups that are on a mission to make a real impact on the world and the customers they serve. May Mobility is solving the growing issue of transportation inequity and changing the way people move around cities. May’s vision for cities with reduced congestion, more green spaces and better land use instead of traffic jams and concrete parking blocks resonates with me, and that’s why I’m excited about the road ahead. I’ve worked in the geospatial and robotics industries serving transportation, logistics and automotive customers, and bring that experience to May.

Having worked at another Y Combinator startup, I was happy to learn that May Mobility has its origins in Paul Graham’s bootcamp for startups. His process for founding companies is second to none. The company is on a strong trajectory, and I’m excited to build brand awareness and a bold market position for the service that we bring to cities and riders.

What will you be doing as vice president of marketing and communications?

I’ll create and implement a go-to-market strategy to grow our brand globally and develop our growth strategy. Building a strong foundation in any market where we expand is key to May’s continued success. We work in tandem with our partners continually to bring the best riding experience wherever you see a May AV—which includes future sites in the U.S. and Japan.

My team covers GTM, brand, growth, community, PR, social, content and events. There’s a talented, smart team in place that I’m expanding with new roles. I will be hiring – spread the word!

What are you most excited about for May’s future?

I’m excited about helping governments, business and communities understand May Mobility’s offerings and the benefits that the service brings to the cities and communities it serves. We need to educate and inform the market more broadly so that cities and towns automatically think of May first.  Bringing better mobility to cities while also solving problems of traffic, congestion and emissions is a huge opportunity. Smart cities means greener environments and that is meaningful for the planet. Sustainability is a key to building cities of the future, and this is important to me personally. I look forward to the deep dive!

Which core value resonates the most with you?

Sweat the detailsTake the time to do it right, with safety being of paramount importance and a point of pride.

This resonates because it touches many aspects of May Mobility’s business. AVs must establish trust with customers and riders as vehicle safety and rider safety is of paramount importance and is the foundation for success.  Demonstrating this through real-world deployments will bring a greater understanding of the paradigm shift happening in the automotive industry.

Value personal relationshipsStart by listening with empathy. Get to know your colleagues and our customers’ needs.

I like this one too, because marketing is a team sport, and the marketing team must build strong relationships cross-functionally as well as with customers, partners and media. This is key to success. You get there by listening with empathy to understand a variety of opinions and perspectives. Good ideas can come from anywhere.

May Mobility named one of Y Combinator’s Top Companies

May Mobility has been ranked as one of the 2022 Y Combinator (YC) Top Companies for the second year in a row! The list is made up of private, public and exited companies valued at $150 million or more. We were originally part of Y Combinator’s 2017 class of incubators.

This year’s list included more than 260 companies, spanning 20 countries, valued at $150 million and above, with 99 new companies joining the list since last year. The list also saw a rise in companies operating remotely, with 11 percent of the top companies working remote-first. 

“May Mobility participated in Y Combinator during the summer of 2017 (S17), with a pitch centered around building autonomous vehicles that could help transform the way people live and get around their communities,” said Edwin Olson, CEO of May Mobility. “Since then, we’ve attracted great investors and partners, turned that pitch into reality with more than 300,000 revenue-generating rides delivered and will deploy the first autonomous Toyota Siennas on public roads later this year.”

Y Combinator selected startups receive seed funding and a three-month bootcamp, helping the companies refine their strategies and investor pitches. The program culminates in the YC Demo Day. May Mobility officially debuted at the 2017 Demo Day.

Part engineer, part problem solver: Bringing May to a city requires listening, testing and adjusting

Months ahead of any May Mobility deployment, a small, agile team of engineers begin scouting, mapping and, eventually, defining service areas and routes for each new city. These highly skilled professionals, known as Field Autonomy Engineers (FAEs), work in two-person teams at each new deployment to ensure the service is fully capable of meeting the community’s transportation needs. Key members of the team from the moment May Mobility defines a potential new deployment and throughout the entire deployment process, FAEs ensure a city’s launch is technologically and logistically feasible, making an upfront investment in time, energy and resources to identify, define and perfect each service.

A field autonomy engineer speaks with a rider in a downtown area near a May Mobility autonomous vehicle.

A field autonomy engineer speaks with a potential rider.

Hearing the Community

The saying that you should listen to understand rather than to respond rings true for May Mobility’s onboarding phase with a new city.

“FAEs develop relationships with the customer and other stakeholders early on to really get to know them,” explains Austin Dillow, a May Mobility FAE who worked on the Arlington, TX, deployment among others. “We work closely over the course of two or three months to understand a community intimately, learning the existing pain points in a city’s transportation infrastructure, where a service is most needed and what that service should look like.” 

Dialogue between the local transportation authorities and various community stakeholders is important as FAEs define which roads the service will drive on to ensure the most effective route. Using a combination of this local input and public transit data, FAEs match potential routes with the service’s capabilities.

“We work to figure out what the best combination of roads, stops and routes is for the service that May can provide the community,” said Field Engineering Manager Jay Miles.

Testing the Route

Once a route has been roughly defined, FAEs map routes to fine tune the path. FAEs “learn by doing,” Miles says. In a manual process, FAEs go through mapping, testing, and refinement stages, driving the roads autonomously repeatedly to help ensure the autonomous technology is given the necessary inputs to operate on its own. Local conditions present unique challenges with different traffic rules and local driving quirks. For example, in some cities or states, aggressive left turns are common and expected. Likewise, in some areas pedestrians are more likely to wait for a crosswalk to turn in their favor, while in others pedestrians are likely to jump in at the first sign of an opening in traffic.

“We help our vehicle be able to infer what it needs to do and what other vehicles and pedestrians are going to do,” Miles explained. “By giving the vehicle that information, we’re able to allow the underlying behavioral algorithms to estimate not only what it needs to do to get to its next stop, but what a person in a car across an intersection is likely to do.” 

Adjusting to Perfection

Constant communication between the FAEs, the cities and other stakeholders ensures that FAEs are informing vehicles not only on current traffic patterns and data, but also anticipated changes — such as scheduled road construction or influxes in pedestrian traffic such as the return of students on college campuses.

When the route is finalized, FAEs work to help hire and train a new local team, and act as technical experts and resources to the new teams onsite. Once a deployment begins, FAEs stay onsite temporarily to ensure a smooth launch and to address any questions from the field team as well as local stakeholders. Once the transition to the local team is complete, FAEs remain in touch and work collaboratively to maintain the integrity of the geofenced operational areas, visiting sites on a regular schedule to collect data, solicit feedback and maintain strong relationships with the customer and local team. 

“After a successful initial deployment, we empower the local team to take over daily operations, while also staying in touch to ensure the deployment is successful for the entire duration of its lifespan,” Miles said. 

Arlington Deployment: Year-One Lookback and Renewal through 2024

We’re thrilled to announce that after a successful one-year pilot, Arlington RAPID has been renewed through 2024. 

Arlington RAPID is the first program in the U.S. to integrate on-demand, autonomous vehicles (AVs)  into an existing transportation service. Created in partnership with the City of Arlington, Via, and University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington) using May Mobility’s fleet, the service provided more than 28,000 rides in its first year to residents, university students and visitors around Downtown and the UT Arlington campus.

Arlington RAPID reported a 99 percent on-time performance, and our vehicles operated fully autonomously 80 percent of the time. With a 98 percent rider-satisfaction rating, it’s clear that the community embraced the pilot program.

“May Mobility and Arlington share a commitment to creating great transit through shared, on-demand autonomous vehicles,” said Edwin Olson, CEO of May Mobility. “May is excited to continue serving the Arlington community, and the learnings from this successful deployment will not only help advance our AV technology, but also enhance our service offerings at future sites around the world.”

Our proprietary AV technology, our Multi-Policy Decision Making (MPDM) system, is designed and implemented with the goal of transforming cities by making transportation safer, easier, more equitable and accessible. First-year results show that more than 60 percent of riders use RAPID to access essential destinations like medical facilities, school or employment opportunities, demonstrating that the service is filling critical transportation gaps and expands equitable access to transit across the city – directly in line with our goals and mission.

While the first year of service was made possible through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, the deployment’s renewal is thanks to additional grant support from the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The new grant came through its AV program, which seeks to support and expand AV planning, testing and deployment in the region. RAPID was one of four projects selected in the program’s second round. The grant will allow RAPID to operate for two more years, as well as add vehicles with higher seating capacity and enable us to move further towards our goal of driver-out operations in the city.

“The North Texas Council of Governments is strongly supportive of efforts like Arlington’s RAPID service, provided by May Mobility, to advance automated transportation technology and provide the public with more and improved mobility options,” said Thomas Bamonte, NCTCOG’s senior program manager of transportation technology and innovation. “NCTCOG is pleased to support two additional years of RAPID and assist Arlington and May Mobility in making North Texas a center for automated transportation innovation.”

Check out the official renewal announcement here.

Want to catch a ride? Learn more about the route here.

May Mobility’s Tom Tang named on Insider’s list of Power Players in the self-driving-car industry

Our very own Tom Tang, chief people officer for May Mobility, made Insider’s list of autonomous vehicle (AV) industry Power Players, receiving recognition as an innovator and essential executive.

During his tenure at May, he has overseen a massive growth in our employee base, helped enhance and drive our culture, and embedded important priorities and processes, such as those for Pay-for-Performance Compensation and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging. We’re thrilled that Insider sees what we see, and asked Tom some questions about how he’s leaving his mark at May and in the broader AV space.

How does it feel to be named among the most powerful players in the AV space?

I feel very humbled! It’s an honor to be included and recognized alongside so many accomplished leaders in the industry.

Your role isn’t specific to the AV industry, yet it’s no less integral to our success. Can you help explain how talent and culture are key to  ensuring the long-term success of May? 

At May, our cars drive themselves but it’s our people who help propel us forward in the pursuit of our mission to transform cities through autonomous technology. As the race to deploy AVs at scale intensifies, so too does the competition for top talent and that’s where we believe our unique culture positions us for success. People join May because they want to have a real world impact. We’re building a better AV technology that works in the real world, and employees get to see how their contributions make a difference in the communities where we live and work. We also welcome and embrace those who represent the vibrancy of the cities where we operate. Our people are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, and our workplaces (both on-site and virtual) are designed to foster belonging, connection and fun!

How do you hope to leave your mark on our company and industry? 

For me, May’s brand promise of “unlocking greater human potential” goes beyond just our customers and riders. It’s also a key part of the employee experience here. When someone joins us, I want them to know that we see their potential and believe they can do great things. We take the time to invest in their growth and development. We strive to provide them with a truly great manager. We want them to bring their own personal magic and passion, and we believe that—so long as the role allows for it—they can be successful from anywhere: onsite, remote or a hybrid of the two. When that same person leaves May, I want them to feel appreciated and to know that we are grateful for their contributions and impact. Most importantly, I want them to believe that their time at May was time well spent, and that we are proud of them and what they will go on to accomplish as a May alum.

Tom Tang enjoys lunch with colleagues at May Mobility’s headquarters.

Our employee base has tripled in your first 18 months. How would you say that’s affecting the culture and how is your team helping the company adjust to the boom? 

It’s been incredible to see how quickly we’ve grown in such a short amount of time, and how it’s had a positive effect on our culture and on our teams! By adding more people, we have been able to accelerate our rate of progress while distributing the workload better so people can achieve improved work-life-balance. At my last company, we experienced 20x full-time employee (FTE) growth in 3 years and I learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way, like the importance of investing early in programs such as Onboarding and Learning & Development. At May, we see our new hires bringing in a ton of valuable experience to their roles and to their teams; so it’s equally important for us to ensure that they are able to ramp up quickly, and that we are able to help capture valuable institutional knowledge and then pass that along to others.

You’ve said before that you aim to embed diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) into everything we do. What are a few of the strategies and tactics you’re using to that end? 

When it comes to DEI&B, I often see companies focus on Diversity first,  recruiting for diverse representation with an emphasis on junior roles that are seen as “easier” and help with the numbers that get reported out. I prefer doing the opposite because I don’t believe “filling a leaky bucket” is a sustainable approach, nor do I believe people are likely to join an organization if they don’t see themselves reflected within the leadership team first. 

At May, we gave ourselves a good hard look in the mirror and prioritized differently. We focus on  building: Equity in terms of our equitable compensation philosophy and our calibrated performance management processes; Inclusion by designing and leading an inclusive meetings framework; and a sense of Belonging for everyone here today with communities like our MayID employee resource group. In doing so, we help ensure that each new person who joins can do so knowing the diversity that they bring will be celebrated, recognized and supported.

What would you say to people considering careers in the AV space? To people considering careers at May? 

I think the engineering effort behind autonomous vehicles is the moonshot of our generation, which makes it such an exciting industry to be in. For anyone considering a career in the AV space, I highly recommend it! And there are so many important roles to play, both technical and non-technical. For example, right now May is looking for people to join the following teams: Autonomy, Business Development, Customer Operations, Finance, Hardware, Marketing, Product, Software, and Vehicle Engineering/Operations. Needless to say, we look forward to hearing from you!

 

Interested in a career at May? See how you can leave your mark on the AV industry on our careers page.

May Mobility continues to drive AV accessibility with update on Inclusive Design Challenge

On January 24th, May Mobility presented in USDOT’s virtual workshops alongside UMTRI for the Inclusive Design Challenge. Here’s an update on how our project is going and how you can watch a recording of the workshop.

 

We believe that autonomous travel must be accessible – not sometime in the future, but today. But we’re still thinking about what an even more accessible autonomous future looks like, especially when communities are ready for fully driverless vehicles.

 

Back in 2020, we were selected in a competitive process to participate in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Inclusive Design Challenge, working on a project called Independent Safety for Wheelchair Users in AVs. May’s project team includes the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), United Spinal Association, BraunAbility, Feonix Mobility Rising, and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL), which delivered an update in the virtual workshop series on January 24th

 

What do we mean by independent safety for wheelchair users? The cornerstone of the project is an integrated wheelchair seating station, and an independent wheelchair docking station and automated belt donning system. To this end, UMTRI is iterating previous prototypes of the Universal Docking Interface Geometry, or UDIG.

Three individuals stand inside a vehicle inspecting the wheelchair docking system.

Researchers and a focus group of experienced paratransit drivers test out the integrated wheelchair seating station.

The UDIG is a common geometry for connecting wheelchairs to vehicles, similar to what you would see with a truck-trailer hitch. When in place, the UDIG allows a wheelchair with compatible attachments to dock in any vehicle with appropriate anchors.

 

This isn’t a new idea: the concept has been around for 20 years. This project is a necessary next step that looks at what questions need to be asked and answered when the UDIG is implemented in an electric and autonomous vehicle. With the battery and technology, is there a tighter space to fit the UDIG? What needs to be moved around? What can the system replicate if an attendant is not present? 

 

We were able to answer some of these questions with a recent focus group with experienced paratransit drivers. Drivers from transit agencies in Minnesota, Nevada, and Michigan traveled to our office in Ann Arbor to get an overview of progress so far, a live demonstration, and to provide feedback. Their perspective will be extremely helpful as we go into full volunteer testing with wheelchair users, which will be the most beneficial part of stage two for our team.

Four individuals observe a vehicle's wheelchair onboarding ramp.

Focus group attendees observe the vehicle’s wheelchair onboarding ramp.

For the next few months, UMTRI researchers will evaluate usability and on-road comfort by working with up to 25 wheelchair users who will try out the UDIG system and give detailed feedback. After gathering this feedback, the team will adjust the solution to make it even better than before.

 

Work on projects like the Inclusive Design Challenge and with partners like UMTRI, United Spinal, and others helps us continue to unearth how AVs can bring the most value to communities.

 

To see the Inclusive Design Challenge team overviews of progress so far, you can watch the virtual workshop recording here using passcode N02C&CjM.