Look Ma, No Hands!

RIDOT introduces driverless shuttles to the streets of Providence


If you soon find yourself driving around Olneyville and see a shuttle with no one at the wheel, don’t panic. It wasn’t carjacked by a ghost – you’re likely seeing a vehicle from Rhode Island Department Of Transportation’s Little Roady Pilot Project.

According to RIDOT, “The Little Roady Pilot Project will bring the first self-driving shuttles to Rhode Island. The service, launching in Spring 2019, is composed of a fleet of fully electric vehicles operating on low-speed roadways along the Woonasquatucket River Corridor, which currently lacks transit service.”

Julia Gold, project manager and RIDOT’s Chief of Sustainability and Innovation, expands on the history behind the project. “Around two years ago, we began a dialogue around new technologies in transportation,” she says. “We recognize that there are extensive new technologies and we want to prepare Rhode Island to best handle those technologies. This is a research project, and has the potential to affect public transportation more than anything has since the introduction of the motorized vehicle.”

The driverless shuttles will hold up to five passengers and top out at 25 miles per hour. Between three and six vehicles will be running at any given time, and there will be 12 stops from Olneyville Square to Providence Station. The shuttles will provide free rides to the public, available seven days a week.

The automated vehicles will provide data for research that looks into mobility solutions, environmental impact, workforce opportunities/impacts, customer satisfaction, ridership trends, and technology adoption. RIDOT will give access to that info to representatives from local and regional higher education institutions and technical colleges.

Julia is confident in the new shuttles. “The testing went very well. No issues came up. We tested in the snow, the rain, and extreme cold. We want to provide equitable mobility for the community.”
Initial testing of the shuttles occurred this winter. On-route testing started in February, and, mid-spring, live operations of the Little Roady Pilot Project will begin in Providence, putting Rhode Island on the map.