Don’t be alarmed if you see a small orange and purple shuttle cruising through downtown Rochester without a driver.
The automated shuttles are part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s yearlong Med City Mover pilot project. They first hit the streets Monday night — driven by an operator this time — to conduct route mapping and programming between 6 and 10 p.m. in preparation for their launch for public use in late August.
The two shuttles planned for the project were originally scheduled to hit the streets in May 2020, but were delayed by the pandemic.
“We're finally moving things along,” said Anne Meyer, a spokesperson from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “COVID kind of slowed some portions of this down. But our goal is to have this shuttle available for folks to take a ride on it. It's got a designated route in the downtown area.”
The 1.5-mile route will start traveling south on Broadway Avenue, head west on Sixth Street Southwest, go north on Third Avenue Southwest, and finish by turning east on West Center Street back to Broadway.
Once the project is underway, the shuttles will run the loop between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The route will have two designated stops near Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building on West Center Street and near People’s Food Co-op on Sixth Street Southwest.
The shuttles, which are electric, will travel about 15 miles per hour, and hold six people each.
They are guided by GPS, and Meyer said there will be an “ambassador” in the shuttle who can answer questions and take over the shuttle manually in case of an emergency.
“We always have someone who will be on the shuttle who can do that, and they will continue to do that for the duration of the project,” she said.
The pilot project is in partnership with the City of Rochester, Destination Medical Center, Mayo Clinic, First Transit and EasyMile, with the goal of testing how the technology works for future transportation plans in the state.
Meyer said public feedback is more than encouraged during the yearlong program.
“This is just an opportunity to let folks get to know a little bit more about this technology, let them take a ride, and then share that feedback with us,” she said. “We want to hear what they like, what they don't like, because I think that type of information will be so helpful if we really get used to and get prepared for this evolving technology.”