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Progress in partnership: Autonomous vehicles and government

Collaboration between the public and private sectors is what makes innovation thrive. Learn about how May Mobility works with its government partners to successfully deploy autonomous transportation.

Two professionals smile and talk as they exit and walk away from a May Mobility autonomous vehicle

There has always been a symbiotic relationship between government and innovation and there is inherent value in fostering a strong relationship between the private and public sectors. It’s through this collaboration that innovative transportation solutions can save lives, improve mobility, promote sustainability and increase efficiency and productivity. That’s why the U.S. government started the DARPA challenges, driving everyday Americans to turn the idea of self-driving cars into a reality.

We believe that developing synergistic partnerships with government agencies sets us apart from other autonomous vehicle (AV) companies and allows us to succeed where others may not. We choose to work with cities, government agencies and regulators — they’re not only our collaborators, but often our customers — which has made all the difference. Here are three key components to successful deployments through government collaboration:

Co-creating solutions

Two heads are better than one and this is especially true when working to deliver public transportation systems that work. One of our first discussion points with government officials is diving into the roadblocks their constituents face in the current mobility ecosystem. Is there a need to boost public transportation usage and thereby reduce traffic? Are there areas where there isn’t reliable access to transportation? Are residents having trouble connecting to a train or bus route that they need for work or to run errands?

Once we identify the problems, we are set up to co-create solutions together. The city of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, informed us that it had a large wheelchair-user population that needed a way to get around town more easily and independently. With that in mind, we deployed our most wheelchair-accessible service yet to address the issue. In Arlington, Texas, city officials wanted an affordable and reliable transportation option for students to get around campus. Our on-demand service was a perfect solution to make sure there was an option that ran on a student’s schedule instead of fixed times.

We believe transportation is a public good and necessary component of peoples’ lives and we recognize that our services should solve problems, rather than create new ones. Through cooperation with our government partners, we can identify opportunities to improve transportation options in a community.

Community engagement

Our autonomous microtransit service isn’t truly a service if we aren’t listening to the people who will ride our AVs. City officials have a great perspective on what’s needed but engaging with the community is another way we can effectively work with the cities where we deploy.

Preparing for our 2024 deployment in Detroit, we’re working with the City to pinpoint locations where our service would be most beneficial and to gather volunteers from those areas to sit in education sessions and participate in focus groups where they could share their needs, concerns and questions. Not only that, but we allow our future riders to see the autonomous vehicles in person so that they know what to expect before they ever book their first ride.

The more feedback we receive from the communities where we deploy, the better we can set things up to fit their needs. And once things are up and running, we continue to check in and make adjustments for a better rider experience from start to finish.

Open and transparent communication

Open avenues of communication with state and local stakeholders are crucial both before and after we’ve launched a deployment. This helps to ensure that everyone knows what will happen, when it will happen, and who to reach out to if something doesn’t go according to plan. We always make sure to reach out to members of Congress, state DOTs and community stakeholders to inform them when we are planning to launch a new service. Additionally, we take steps to appropriately share data regarding aggregate system usage—such as the total number of rides and shared rides, most popular pick-up and drop-off destinations and autonomy performance—with our customers. Using that data, we can continue to work together to optimize various aspects of the deployment, making sure that our autonomous vehicles can reach the people who need improved mobility the most.

And, of course, maintaining an environment of honest and transparent communication also means we must hold ourselves to a high standard of safety, reliability and continual improvement. Maintaining various levels of accountability, both internally and externally, is good because we are pressured to not only deliver our best but also to improve our technology and deployments regularly. As we continue to work in good faith with our partners, we will continue to deliver a service that our customers can rely on to achieve their transportation goals.

Together is better

As we continue to see an uptick in private transportation providers, there needs to be an increased effort to work alongside local government. Collaboration between the public and private sectors is what makes innovation thrive–in that it focuses companies like ours on the problems that need to be solved, ensures the projects are guided by community input and instills greater standards of communication and accountability. Only when we prioritize these strong partnerships between government and industry can we truly deliver long-term autonomous vehicle solutions and help people around the world to confidently adopt this new mode of transportation. That’s the May Mobility difference and we are proud of the steady progress we’ve made alongside our government partners.

Nicole DuPuis, May Mobility's Policy and Advocacy Lead

About the Author

Dr. Nicole DuPuis is a seasoned research and policy professional with a broad array of experience across the for-profit, non-profit and academic sectors. Her work focuses on the nexus of mobility and technology. She currently serves as the Policy and Advocacy Lead at May Mobility where she manages corporate policy and advocacy efforts at the federal, state and local levels. Throughout her career, she has published articles in both peer-reviewed and policy-oriented outlets and authored numerous research reports. Her writing and work have been featured in TechCrunch, Governing, Route 50 and City Lab, among other outlets. Nicole holds a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Tech, where her doctoral research examined how different cities regulate and respond to the emergence of technology-based mobility services.

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