Busses are good low-cost forms of transportation, but road congestion makes bus schedules unreliable.
Biking is increasing in popularity, and greenway infrastructure should continue to be developed, but that gets easier when there are less cars on roads.
Autonomous cars represent a turning point in human transit; one on-demand shuttle should be able to retire 10-15 personal vehicles, reducing transit costs and complexities for people, while reducing road congestion and subsequent transit times.
Autonomous cars will be fleet vehicles, that will be summoned via apps, and paid for on a per-use basis. I expect the major players in this new industry to be ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which have on-demand transit infrastructure in place, as well as partnerships with major auto manufactures, and public autonomous betas in a variety of cities.
Expect companies like Google and Apple to also offer autonomous fleet vehicles, along with car rental companies such as Enterprise and Hertz.
For the purpose of a $100k pilot, I'd replicate what May Mobility has in place for Bedrock employees in Detroit. 1-2 fully-autonomous vehicles, which users can summon when needed via a smartphone application.
WAIT, Grand Rapids just announced they're doing exactly what is outlined in this idea - https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Shortcut-Content/News-Media/City-joins-public-private-coalition-to-bring-autonomous-vehicles-to-GR
So, we're on the same page so far.
Let's go to the next page.
Free public autonomous shuttles are amazing, but at first they will only increase traffic congestion in their area of operation. The key to a smooth transition into autonomy is retiring personal vehicles; most of the users of the autonomous shuttle pilot (outside of those who will be riding it purely for entertainment purposes) likely live downtown, and don't have personal vehicles.
My idea, for the sake of this competition, is to buy a Tesla car, develop an Uber-alternative app, and execute a campaign similar to the Obama administration's 2009 "Cash for Clunkers" program, which would allow a select group of people to trade in their personal vehicles, in exchange for on-demand transit credits (or free transportation, for the duration of the pilot), for transportation between point A and B. Users would be ferried between home and the 22 stops around the DASH West route of the May Mobility pilot.
So there would be a fixed shuttle service on city interior, and autonomous taxis would bring people to/from stops along that route, so long as they live within the defined service areas (areas to be determined, but concept defined in attached image).
Additionally, the location of May Mobility shuttles could be monitored, and passengers could be dynamically sent to DASH West stops ahead of the May Mobility shuttle pickups.