I finally got on board a Little Roady autonomous shuttle today and rode the entire 5.3 mile loop over to Olneyville Square and back, and I give the experience two enthusiastic thumbs up. Not only was it comfortable and kind of fun, but along the way I got to see how an efficient, readily available, public transit system could really enhance life in Providence for all residents. People are using this. And it’s free.
Last May the Little Roady Pilot Project launched the first self-driving shuttles in Rhode Island. The fleet of electric vehicles offers rides along a fixed route in the Woonasquatucket River Corridor of Providence.
You don’t need to check a schedule, just go to one of the stops and wait a few minutes. The website has an “autonomous shuttle live route” map that shows in real time where all the vehicles are. The route moves in a counter-clockwise direction (because we live in the northern hemisphere) and during service hours you will see the shuttle icons bouncing along.
I hopped on the shuttle in front of the railroad station on Gaspee Street at 1:35pm and was back by 2:10pm which my driver, Jean, said was fairly typical. (In fact, the website says the trip from Olneyville to the train station is 20 minutes.) At first I jumped in the back where there are four seats with seatbelts. There is no air conditioning but the large side windows crank down completely and it was pleasantly breezy. The roof is a gray-tinted lucite (?) panel — it feels very open. The entire vehicle was clean and tidy.
I shared the back with a young man who kept his own counsel while a woman had jumped in the front and made a phone call. Both these passengers seemed to be regulars. In Olneyville the woman got out and I took the opportunity to jump in the front seat for the return. This gave me a chance to ask Jean (rhymes with gene) a few questions and he could not have been more engaging. He has been “driving” the shuttle since the project launched; the position requires a chauffeur’s license. The website uses the term “fleet attendant” but Jean said “driver” was fine. He admitted it takes some getting used to . . not having a steering wheel. He has a stick-and-keypad device in his lap (see photo below) but the route and the stops are all pre-programmed.
Heading out along Valley Street we picked up an older man and woman near a supermarket, each carrying two large bags filled with groceries. They clambered out at Olneyville Square. This shuttle may have made that shopping trip possible for those two — it was not a walkable distance or them with those bags.
On my return, two cheerful women jumped in at Valley Street. I wish I had gotten their names, but the excursion was over before I knew it.
Go here for a map to the 12 stops. (The jig-and-a-jog at Alco gets you right behind the WaterFire Arts Center in case you want to go check out the Museum of the Moon exhibit.) And of course, passengers must exit on the sidewalk side.
All the vehicles have names — ours was Matcha. Jean said the public had been asked to submit name ideas, but he doesn’t know what or who Matcha refers to. I can’t find any info on this.
The service runs 7 days-a-week from 6:30am to 6:30pm, through May 2020. More background at ecoNews RI.”
This is the charming Jean who was happy to answer my questions.
A sign like the one below, and a short section of curbing marked in green, marks the pick-up spots. It’s only 10-12 minutes between vehicles.