Valley Metro connects communities by providing eco-friendly public transit options in Maricopa...

Valley Metro connects communities by providing eco-friendly public transit options in Maricopa County.

Photo: Valley Metro

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released Evaluation of the Valley Metro-Waymo Automated Vehicle RideChoice Mobility-on[1]Demand Demonstration (Report 0198), which found seniors and ADA riders in metro Phoenix prefer autonomous vehicles (AV) over traditional taxis or rideshare options.

The six-month study was funded by the FTA and began in 2019. It focused on how autonomous vehicles can enhance customer experience, meet accessibility needs, and help improve affordability and safety to a key rider demographic.

“It is exciting to see how well autonomous vehicles were accepted as a viable travel solution for seniors and persons with disabilities,” said Valley Metro RPTA Board member & Valley Metro Rail chair, Mesa Councilmember Francisco Heredia. “It is always beneficial to provide additional passenger options to our citizens. With a growing demand for affordable transportation, we are on the brink of a new era.”

Participants in the study engaged in activities outside of the home and said they believe they would be comfortable riding alone, without an autonomous vehicle specialist.

Valley Metro worked with Waymo and Arizona State University (ASU) to understand how autonomous vehicles can be used for the Valley Metro RideChoice program.

RideChoice provides transportation to seniors and passengers with disabilities using taxis and rideshare providers.

 “Through our autonomous vehicle technology, Waymo offers a safe and easy way for people to get where they need to go,” said Nicole Gavel, Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships for Waymo. “The insights gained through this first-of-its-kind partnership support developing a product and service that holds the ASU/ValleyMetro/Waymo partnership August 2021 Page 2 promise of enabling mobility for all, offering a new kind of freedom for individuals to go where they want, when they want.”

The FTA said it wanted to understand where autonomous vehicles can fit within a program of transportation services provided for Americans with Disabilities Act paratransit-certified people with disabilities and seniors aged 65 and over.

“The ASU team was delighted to have the opportunity to partner with Valley Metro and Waymo to study the potential for an autonomous vehicle future,” said Ram Pendyala, a professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU and director of the Center for Teaching Old Models New Tricks (TOMNET), a multi-university transportation research group. “The research findings show that the future is bright, with study participants expressing a strong desire to adopt autonomous vehicle-based transportation services.”

ASU researchers conducted surveys and focus groups. They also analyzed trip data to gain an understanding of how AVs affect rider perceptions. They discovered that AV riders showed satisfaction to comfort, wait time, travel time, and ease of requesting a ride.

“Incorporating new technology into our transit system is a leap that we are ready to take,” said Scott Smith, Valley Metro CEO. “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to offering transit services. We will continue to seek out feasible solutions that make sense for every age and ability of our riders.”