TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—Autonomous vehicles may be a key to future transportation, but they shouldn't be the sole solution for auto makers and city planners, warns Alisyn Malek, chief operating officer of self-driving shuttle company May Mobility.
Communities need to balance multiple transportation options, including shuttles, buses, bicycles and scooters, Malek said.
She argued that continuing to focus on privately owned vehicles, especially once they are self-driving, will lead to more traffic congestion because autonomous vehicles will open up personal mobility to a larger portion of the population.
"The world will be a parking lot if we continue the same habits that we've had, especially in the U.S., but have automated vehicles," she said. "None of us wants that."
May Mobility is focused on connecting multimodal transportation in cities. It launched in downtown Detroit in 2018 with self-driving shuttles that ferried workers at a local company from their office buildings to parking structures. The company keeps human safety drivers present in each shuttle.
May Mobility since has expanded to Grand Rapids, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; and Providence, R.I. It closed a Series A funding round valued at $22 million in February.
The Rhode Island routes represented the first time May Mobility has linked an Amtrak station and a city center. Malek said the company wants to give people access to multiple transportation modes.
"As long as we create enough tools in the toolbox, each community can select the ones that are right for them," she said.
Malek said it's hard to change thinking, especially in the U.S., thanks to years of prioritizing personal vehicle ownership. People must see a clear benefit to multimodal transportation, she said.
"We recognize that in order to have people make decisions to join these new mobility services, they have to want to do it," she said. "It needs to be easier, more fun and more accessible than the other options they have available to them."