May Mobility to intro wheelchair-accessible autonomous shuttles

Autonomous ride-hail and shuttle startup May Mobility is partnering with wheelchair-accessible van manufacturer BraunAbility to modify its fleet of Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS (S-AM) vehicles to include ADA-compliant vehicles.

May operates low-speed AVs geared toward augmenting public transport in five cities, including Arlington, Texas, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids in Michigan, Fishers, Indiana and Hiroshima, Japan. The modified S-AM vehicles will be phased into these locations throughout the year, the company said in a statement, noting that it hopes this partnership will lay the groundwork for further development and deployment of ADA-compliant vehicles in the future.

Ensuring that autonomous vehicles are developed in a way that advances transportation equity goals is a key pillar for May Mobility,” said Erin McCurry, product manager and accessibility lead at May Mobility, in a statement. “In the U.S., 3.6 million people do not leave their homes because of travel-limiting disabilities.”

Other AV companies that are currently deploying self-driving ride-hail vehicles, like Waymo and Cruise, have yet to introduce vehicles that are wheelchair-accessible. Waymo has announced plans to produce a purpose-built minivan AV with Geely’s Zeekr, but so far the descriptions say nothing about accessibility. Cruise plans to introduce its own dedicated robotaxi, the Origin, in 2023, which should have an accessible variant, but that’s still probably years away from service.

Aurora recently unveiled a test fleet of Toyota S-AMs for future ride-hail operations, but the company did not respond to requests in time for more information about whether those vehicles would be ADA-compliant, as well.

May’s S-AMs will feature a rear-entry conversion, allowing the vehicles to carry two non-wheelchair riders along with a rider using a wheelchair, or four non-wheelchair users, the company says.

As part of May’s efforts to improve accessibility in transit, the company will also integrate assistive technology within the vehicle cabin through speakers and a display to help those who have audio or visual impairments know when it is safe to enter and exit the vehicle.

“Designing for people with disabilities makes the entire product easier to use for everyone. We’re excited to launch these assistive technology features in every single new vehicle,” said McCurry.