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Six months with no one at the wheel in Rhode Island

Providence launched a shuttle bus service called May Mobility.
Providence launched a shuttle bus service called May Mobility.David L Ryan/Globe Staff

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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Edward Fitzpatrick and I maintain that Rhode Island governors should always wear Joe Garrahy’s flannel shirt during snowstorms. Follow me on Twitter @FitzProv or send tips to Edward.Fitzpatrick@Globe.com.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Dan McGowan is sitting by a pool thinking of new Rhode Map ideas this week. He’ll be back on Monday.


The “Little Roady” self-driving shuttles that you see puttering around downtown Providence didn’t make it out in the snow Tuesday morning.

But people have taken more than 25,000 trips on the autonomous electric vehicles during the first six months of a one-year pilot program, the state Department of Transportation reports. People were taking an average of 146 free shuttle trips per day through the first 27 days of November -- up from an average of 137 trips per day in October and 125 trips per day in June.

“We will want to see data over a long period of time before reaching any conclusions, but we are pleased people are using it,” DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said Tuesday. “It is a research project, and one of the goals is to have the public interact with it and get their feedback.”

The $1.2-million project is funded by Volkswagen emissions testing scandal settlement money, plus federal and state funds. DOT’s contract with May Mobility has options to extend the service for two years. As the Globe’s Hiawatha Bray explained, it’s an experiment: State and local officials want to see what happens when self-driving cars interact with human drivers and pedestrians, bus operator May Mobility wants experience running the shuttle network, and residents want to see if they’re ready for this.


“Wait, it drives by itself?” Jayles Veglia asked on Friday as she rode in one of the shuttles, which run seven days a week on a 5.3-mile loop. “It’s scary.” But her sister, Angelica Veglia, said, “It’s better than RIPTA buses, it has less people, and it’s free. I would pay $1. They should get more of them.”

While the five-passenger shuttles are driverless, they do have “fleet attendants,” who sit behind a T-bar and can take over manual controls when necessary. Fleet attendant Robert Donyen, of Attleboro, Mass., said he has learned one thing: “Rhode Island drivers don’t use turn signals,” he said. “It’s like they are trying to conserve them.”


Rhode Map wants to hear from you. If you’ve got a scoop or a link to an interesting news story in Rhode Island, e-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Tuesday announced that senior adviser David Ortiz will become her next chief of staff, current chief of staff Brett Smiley will become acting director of administration after Michael DiBiase leaves in January, and former Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors will become her new senior adviser. In a statement, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio frowned on the Smiley move, saying: “We would expect that in January the governor will submit a nominee for director of administration to the Senate for advice and consent, as required by law.”


Amanda Milkovits reports that a lawsuit being heard in U.S. District Court in Providence on Thursday could lead to a national question: Does the U.S. Constitution entitle all students to an education that prepares them to participate in a democracy?

• Amanda also reports that the Rhode Island State Police are looking for the drivers of three cars who pulled a Thanksgiving Day stunt -- spinning donuts in the middle of the Providence River Bridge, shutting down Interstate 195 for several minutes.

• The Rhode Island School of Design is well represented in Forbes’ latest “30 Under 30” list for art and style. The Providence-based school has four alumni and one faculty member featured this year: Marly Gallardo, Jon Key, Acacia Johnson, Saad Moosajee, and faculty member Farah Al Qasimi. And the Globe’s Deanna Pan made the “30 Under 30” list for media.

• Be sure to check out this tasty Providence restaurant guide by the Globe’s Devra First. “Providence punches above its weight,” she writes. “All over town, menus showcase the bounty of the surrounding waters and farms.”


Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.


North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi and Police Chief David P. Tikoian will hold at news conference at 2 p.m. at the North Providence Public Safety Complex as the once-troubled police department receives accreditation from the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission.

Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Police Chief Thomas F. Oates III will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. at the Woonsocket Police Department regarding “the city’s continuing efforts enforcing overnight out-of-state registration initiative.”

• Marine conservationist and University of Rhode Island alumna Tundi Agardy will speak about “Harnessing Conservation to get the Blue Economy right” at noon at the Coastal Institute, 1 Greenhouse Road on the Kingston Campus. It’s as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of URI’s Department of Marine Affairs. She is founder of Sound Seas, based in Washington, D.C.

• “Motherhood and Deportation: A Conversation with PrYSM” begins at 5 p.m. at U-FLi Center at Brown University, 201 Thayer St. (fifth floor), in Providence. The Providence Youth Student Movement is hosting an informal conversation about the ways that threats of deportation and family separation affect friends, family, and communities.

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Thanks for reading. Send comments and suggestions to dan.mcgowan@globe.com, or follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan. See you tomorrow.

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