Ford Motor Co. is halting the medical shuttle service it operates in five Midwestern cities and plans to relaunch it in conjunction with autonomous vehicle testing.
The abrupt change in strategy comes less than seven months after Ford began expanding GoRide Health, which takes passengers to and from hospitals for nonemergency medical care, nationwide.
By the end of the month, GoRide Health will cease operations in Detroit and four Ohio cities: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo and Dayton. A Ford spokesman on Tuesday said the automaker plans to instead start pilot programs where it tests AVs, beginning with Miami.
"Ford is committed to improving access to transportation for those with limited mobility," spokesman Martin Gunsberg said in a statement. "The planned Miami pilot will help Ford better understand the role AVs can play in this important transport sector. Our immediate priority, however, is to provide a seamless and orderly transition for our customers using the GoRide Health service in non-AV launch cities."
Ford declined to say when the Miami pilot would begin or how the service might differ. The automaker is testing AVs in other cities, including Washington and Pittsburgh, but did not say whether it might later start GoRide Health pilots in those cities as well.
Ford spun off GoRide Health into a separate limited-liability company in late 2018. It had planned to expand to North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and California next year, but those plans are now off.
The pivot, first reported by Techcrunch, marks the latest change to the company's mobility services. Last winter, Ford shut down Chariot, an on-demand shuttle service it bought in 2016, because of low ridership.
The GoRide Health service was first piloted in 2018 at hundreds of sites in southeastern Michigan.
Ford partnered with insurers and managed-care providers to offer the service, which let patients schedule rides up to 30 days before an appointment. A driver would pick up patients from their homes or nursing centers and transport them to and from a hospital.
The automaker currently uses roughly 60 Transit vans for the service. Most trips were subsidized by patients' health insurance, but a small number of customers paid for the trips out of pocket, Ford said. An average trip cost $45 to $60.
Through the first quarter of 2019, Ford said the service had a 95 percent on-time rate with average waits of 10 to 20 minutes. Drivers were trained to support skilled nursing centers in need of bedside-to-bedside services.
The automaker is working to launch an AV for commercial purposes such as package delivery in 2021.