We at May Mobility are in the business of reimagining cities with autonomous transportation, aiming to make them safer, greener and more accessible for all. The all is the really critical part, it means that we start by trying to think of everyone as our passenger which impacts how we think about our product. In an ideal world, our vehicles would already be easily accessible to everyone, but that’s not the case right now. We are excited to share our progress on how we’re getting there.
We have been working on a wheelchair accessible vehicle for a few months, including early designs and tests in our shop in Ann Arbor. This week, working with our Columbus partners at DriveOhio and SMART Columbus, we took the second (and arguably more important) step of bringing our design to the community for feedback.
With unclear regulations for low speed electric vehicles (LSEVs), it makes sense to work with the community to refine our design and make sure it’s safe and comfortable for people who will actually use it. Besides the ramp, we want to make sure we consider how to keep wheelchairs properly restrained in the vehicle, to ensure the whole journey is a safe and pleasant one.
So, what did we learn? That we’ve got some work to do. But that’s the whole point of a startup: get your idea out there, get feedback, and iterate.
Our ramp needs to be a bit more gradual so it’s easier to board the vehicle. We also need to look into simple things like rubber bumpers for the end of the ramp that touches the ground. These help make the transition up the ramp more gradual and also help to deal with un-level ground.
It’s not just the vehicle design: we also need to work closely with our community partners on where we pick up and drop off. The bumps that help blind people find sidewalk intersections are actually quite tough for people to traverse in wheelchairs, but we also want to make sure we’re not dropping them off on the grass.
Following the valuable feedback sessions in Columbus, here’s where we’re at: our solution is no worse than the paratransit options that currently exist. There are positives and negatives. We’re excited that we have an option to deploy, but we want to do better and think bigger in the long term.
While we plan to bring wheelchair accessible vehicles to our public operations in Columbus, Providence, and Grand Rapids soon, May Mobility’s plan is to explore how we can make our vehicles progressively more accessible in the long term. How can we incorporate not just hardware changes, but changes across the company? How can we rethink mobility through an accessibility lens?
In trying to fulfill our mission of making cities more livable, we need to do so for everyone and we’re excited to be making traction. This was a great first step at getting feedback to make sure we have a vehicle design that works for all, and we look forward to providing more updates as we get more feedback.