Autonomous Vehicle Transit Pilot in Rural Minnesota to Expand with $9.3M Federal Grant

By Andy Castillo, American City & County

Ten months into its 18-month-long pilot initiative, an autonomous vehicle transit program in rural Minnesota, goMARTI (Minnesota’s Autonomous Rural Transit Initiative), has received a $9.3 million federal technology grant to expand into Grand Rapids, Minn.

Since launching with a fleet of five self-driving vehicles in September (three of which have ADA-compliant wheelchair ramps), goMARTI has provided on-demand service to about 70 pick-up and drop-off points in a 16.5 square-mile area. The expansion will add community-requested stops to the east and south of the current area, including Minnesota North College Itasca, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank and Walmart.

“Connecting residents with these rural community destinations will allow for equitable access to critical services in the region through a convenient and reliable shared mobility option. We are excited about continuing the state’s interagency collaboration between the Iron Range and MnDOT in the state’s transition to shared, electric and automated transportation,” said Ida Rukavina, commissioner of Minnessota’s Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation board in a statement. With the federal Advanced Transportation Technology and Innovation Program grant and additional “EV infrastructure planning underway, northeastern Minnesota is well positioned to help create a better future for rural transportation.”

Along with the added stops, administrators are planning to use the funding to add another autonomous vehicle to the fleet along with three fully electric, non-autonomous vehicles that will serve the Grand Rapids area and the nearby communities of Cohasset and La Prairie, Minn.

While initially launched to help people in rural Minnessota get to and from jobs, medical and other appointments, the expansion will reach a new population.

“Expanding goMARTI to Minnesota North College Itasca is a big win for our current and prospective students,” said Dr. Michael Raich, president of Minnesota North College in the statement. “Reliable transportation is a barrier for many people, and this free and convenient shuttle option will make college much more accessible to those who don’t live on or near campus. This project also presents an opportunity for our college to prepare our future workforce by exposing students to emerging technologies and careers in the transportation industry.”

The grant will also be used to integrate goMARTI into the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) trip planning platform, the Transit App, which is currently being used in southern Minnesota. Funding will also support continued research from the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies and workforce development efforts with Minnesota North College. Minnesota North College will be developing curriculum to leverage the project creating student experience opportunities, new curriculum opportunities and career pathways in new technology.