A photo of one of Ohmio’s autonomous shuttles.
The Riverside City Council last month unanimously approved an agreement to bring New Zealand-based autonomous shuttle company Ohmio’s international headquarters to the city. (Courtesy photo)

The Riverside City Council last month unanimously approved an agreement to bring New Zealand-based autonomous shuttle company Ohmio’s international headquarters to the city.

“Since May of this year, the city and Ohmio have been in discussions to further Riverside’s economic and green sustainable goals through this unique public private partnership,” Jennifer Lilley, director of community and economic development, said during the Nov. 28 meeting. “In September, as you’ll recall, the council directed staff to finalize this negotiation to relocate Ohmio to the city of Riverside and to bring back some additional information.”

That additional information included more details about the safety of the autonomous vehicles, the role of the safety operators, the projected workforce and local hiring impacts, the impacts to Riverside Transit Authority ridership and staff, the location of the facility, potential point-of-sale revenue and potential partnerships and sponsorships.

According to Lilley, Ohmio has not had a single accident in the history of the company and maintains a “zero incident record.” Additionally, all of the shuttles have a safety operator on board to communicate with the monitoring center, assist passengers and intervene in the case of an emergency.

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“Ohmio has committed to local hiring and anticipates, as outlined in your staff report, seven to 10 new jobs ranging from $65,000 a year all the way up to $160,000 in the first year for those individuals, and up to 25 new jobs by year three,” Lilley said.

She also told the council that the company was in communication with the Riverside County Transportation Commission, Riverside Transit Authority, the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce as well as area colleges and universities in an effort to increase collaboration and support for the company’s relocation.

“The whole world is going to be watching us,” Rodolfo Torres,vice chancellor for research and economic development at the University of Riverside-California, said. “The whole world is going to be looking at this city in Southern California called Riverside that we all love so much, and they’re going to wonder why is it that these companies choose to come here, and they’re going to start seeing all the benefits that we had to offer.”

Others who spoke during the meeting had questions about the projected benefits to the city including the number of jobs that would be created, the amount of sales tax revenue that would be generated and public transportation improvements.

Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson said that while the facility is only projected to have approximately 25 employees by year three, that hiring will have ripple effects throughout the community.

“It’s going to be multiplicative with respect to other industries,” she said. “And we’re doing exactly all the things that we’re supposed to be doing to develop a robust economic cluster around this.”

The council unanimously approved the agreement, which will see the city spend up to $2.5 million — including $1.5 million for a two-year pilot program that will see three of Ohmio’s autonomous shuttles operating on Riverside streets.

“I think that we have an opportunity to really, to really look at the future of transportation, and I appreciate the efforts you’ve made coming here working with all folks involved,” Ward 5 Councilmember Gaby Plascencia said.

More about the agreement can be found here on the city’s website

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