Residents in Austin could expect to see autonomous vehicles delivered on their streets in the next couple of years as the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority (Capital Metro) are currently exploring the possibilities. This twelve passenger ‘robot bus’ could provide better connectivity between outer city locations and the mass transit network. Last week the EasyMile EZ10 twelve passenger vehicle was successfully trialled at the University of Texas’ campus. Reaching speeds of 25mph the vehicle uses laser ranging and detection to avoid obstacles. Capital Metro operates bus, paratransit services and a commuter rail system known as Capital MetroRail for Austin and several suburbs. The transit organisation is exploring the opportunities for adding the autonomous vehicles to their services to access areas where traditional bus or rail service isn’t feasible. Capital Metro emphasises that the passenger vehicles will be used to compliment existing bus and rail service rather than replacing them.
The autonomous vehicle has been developed in partnership with RATP Dev which operates as McDonald Transit in the US. In Austin, it has been the largest bus service provider since 2012. The company works in cooperation with its 267 vehicle fleet providing more than 22 million rides per year. Their collaboration with Capital Metro has been proof of both companies’ commitment to building a public transportation system which can better integrate transit options as well as improve the region’s environmental impact by reducing emissions.
According to Mariette Hummel, spokesperson for Capital Metro ( @CapMetroATX ) she said, "This is one of the possible options for our mobility innovation zones. Areas where large buses do not fit or where we have low demand means that we want to find a way to get people from those areas to our transit services." Hummell goes onto explain that these autonomous vehicles are intended to be a cost-effective way to get people from low-density areas to use their buses and rail services. EZ10 would intend to provide more potential riders rather than replacing rail operators.
“Because transit is not a one-size-fits-all solution to mobility challenges, we are actively working to identify cost-effective technologies that will allow us to better match our services to the needs of the community,” said Wade Cooper, Chairman of the Capital Metro board of directors.
The $250,000 vehicles are also expected to reduce the use of inefficient bus lines located in the west and southwestern areas of Austin. However, there are still a couple of issues that are holding the vehicles behind. Firstly, the EZ10 has only been trialled in censored environments rather than operating in mixed traffic surrounded by other cars. Trials should therefore begin on public roads to see how best to integrate AVs into the mobility eco-system. And secondly, preparations must be made for the impact on employment as some driving jobs could disappear. But the main barrier preventing the autonomous vehicles being used tomorrow is simply the law.
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