As private transportation companies continue research on robotics and autonomous vehicles, the early results of pilot programs are influencing the vision for the future of public transit. Some transit agencies have recognized that, if driverless vehicles are the future of transportation, the public sector should embrace partnerships with private, technology-driven companies to prepare for a variety of future scenarios and outcomes.
Most recently, Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) both launched driverless shuttle routes with the intent to expand. In November 2020, PSTA opened a free shuttle route, nicknamed Ava, operated by a private partner: Beep. According to PSTA, the launch has been a success with Ava securing more than 1,500 riders within its first month of operation.
Similarly, in December 2020, JTA introduced its first fully autonomous vehicle, EV Star, developed by GreenPower Motor Company Inc. and Perrone Robotics. The agency hopes to introduce this vehicle to regular service in February 2021 and is working with community stakeholders towards the creation of a public transportation network fully powered by autonomous technology.
Research on robotics and its connection to public mobility will continue this year with additional support from federal funding. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration awarded a total of $49.6 million in Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grants. In 2021, in addition to ITS technologies to reduce congestion, this funding will also be applicable to projects that operate with connected and automated vehicle technologies.
Although the future of driverless technology is uncertain, due to safety concerns, traffic regulation challenges, and general user skepticism, both the federal government and public transit agencies are committed to staying relevant in the age of technology. As more companies launch AV pilot programs, the industry will gain a clearer picture of customer reactions to the technology and realistic possibilities for fully autonomous transit networks.