What do you do when companies bypass your city of 390,000 people partly because it lacks a public transit system?
You can try to catch up? Or you can be like Arlington, Texas.
It wants to be the first American city with functioning self-driving cars, and it is ramping up its testing. It’s an interesting idea: avoid the billions in infrastructure costs for a new transit system, and go straight to a fleet of driverless cars to shuttle people around.
Learn more about Arlington’s plans when Jim Parajon at CityAge: San Diego in San Diego on April 25 & 26, 2017.
Early in February members of the public were invited by the Alliance for Transportation Innovation to take a ride in an autonomous transit vehicle. Arlington was among the first stops in a cross-country road trip aimed at introducing people to the benefits of driverless vehicles. The visit also included a meeting with business and government leaders.
Deputy City Manager Jim Parajon took a spin on the box-like vehicle, with a top speed of 25 mph, with Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams. The Mayor said that selling the public on the electric-powered vehicles may be easier than getting them to vote on major public transit investments, which normally take years to implement.
Naturally, there are safety concerns about a vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals. However, according to a CBSDFW article, the shuttle is programmed to stay on one path and its stops for anything in its way. ATI CEO Paul Brubaker said there was no need to worry about the safety of the technology. After all, computers can’t text or drink and drive, he argued.
It is an exciting prospect for a city like Arlington. It hosts numerous sporting and entertainment events and has a large student population but is serviced only by a single bus line. Autonomous public transit would make a huge difference and perhaps attract more companies to the city.
The days of self-driving shuttles ferrying people around may, however, still be some way off. There is still lots of testing to be done. As reported in the Dallas News, researchers will only be closing roads when autonomous vehicles have undergone years of testing.
Furthermore, the eco-system needed to support driverless vehicles still needs to be well thought out and implemented by the public sector. Street lighting, curbs and passenger loading areas are just some of the things government will have to figure out, as note in a Mobility Labs piece.