Capital Metro, partners to test autonomous vehicle tech

Posted on June 26, 2018

Capital Metro, Central Texas’ transportation agency, will explore automated vehicle (AV) technology through evaluation demonstrations, with testing possibly beginning as soon as late July. If testing goes well, a pilot service is expected to follow later this fall. The announcement came by way of a presentation delivered at the agency’s monthly board meeting today.

“Capital Metro wants to lead the charge — to be among the first transit agencies in the United States to showcase this technology to our ‘smart’ city. I believe this will be the largest public AV bus pilot in the country.” said Randy Clarke, Capital Metro’s president/CEO. “This is an amazing opportunity to better connect our customers and community while also shaping the future of transportation.”

Teams from Capital Metro, RATP Dev USA (a Capital Metro service provider), the City of Austin, and autonomous vehicle manufacturers are working together to initiate this pilot.

“Autonomous vehicles are key to providing efficient and effective first-mile, last-mile solutions,” said Blaine Rigler, president of RATP Dev USA. “This project with Capital Metro further solidifies our commitment to bring transportation innovations to Austin that makes it faster, safer, and easier to move around the city.”

Two phases of the autonomous vehicle pilot project are envisioned. The first will evaluate the performance of different autonomous bus vehicles from a few manufacturers. In addition to analyzing the vehicles, RATP Dev and the vehicle manufacturers will work with city officials to test signal components and on-street performance.

"Austin Transportation is excited to partner with Capital Metro on this groundbreaking effort,” said Jason JonMichael, Austin Transportation assistant director for Smart Mobility. “We’re dedicated to making mobility safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more equitable. This project has the potential to bring us closer to all of those goals and open up opportunities for future technological innovation.”

These electric-powered vehicles can carry up to 15 passengers and will be ADA accessible. Operators will be on board while the vehicles are being evaluated and in service.

The testing phase of the project is expected to take up to 60 days. Vehicle safety, and the efficiency and performance of battery technology, will be examined.

The second phase will be initiated while the testing phase is underway. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers will be able to submit proposals for Capital Metro to lease six vehicles for its in-service circulator pilot.

Capital Metro anticipates the selected fleet of pilot vehicles will be in operation late this fall. The vehicles are expected to be in service, picking up and dropping off customers, for a period of 12 months. During this time, the overall customer experience, safety, and the public’s reception and adoption of autonomous vehicles will be evaluated.

Though the specific corridor the autonomous vehicles will travel has not been finalized, representatives from Capital Metro have planned for the vehicles to serve City Hall and the Central Library, and help Capital Metro customers make easy connections to other transit services at the downtown MetroRail station and Republic Square. Tentatively, a five- to seven-minute frequency of service is planned during the pilot.

Capital Metro will not see any expenses from the demonstration and autonomous vehicle testing phase. Final costs of the pilot will be determined after bids are submitted during the procurement process. The pilot is being supported, and costs are offset, by RATP Dev USA. Catching a ride on the autonomous vehicles will be free to customers during the pilot. To deploy the pilot program, Capital Metro will be exploring partnerships to help offset operating expenses.

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