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A California county will soon test driverless shuttles on its public roads

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A California county will soon start testing autonomous shuttles on its roads. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave Contra Costa County in northern California permission to do so this month.

"We're slated to grow 29 percent by the year 2040, so we're trying to find new ways of moving our peope here," said Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transit Authority.

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EasyMile @ Bishop Ranch Photo by Noah Berger

The county, which is 60 miles east of San Francisco, has been testing EasyMile shuttles in a private business park since March 2017. In the next phase of testing, predetermined people will get to test the shuttles on public roads within the business park.

Contra Costa Transit Authority says it's so invested in driverless shuttles because it's trying to solve the "first and last mile" problem a lot of residents in suburban communities have.

"It's pretty neat to be one of the first testers of this technology in the United States," said Iwasaki.

The University of Michigan started a similar shuttle program for students this fall. Contra Costa Transit Authority says it's so invested in driverless shuttles because it's trying to solve the "first and last mile" problem a lot of residents in suburban communities have. This means they don't live close to a bus stop or train station, so it complicates the "first" and "last mile" of their commute.

"It's too far away for them to conveniently walk," said Iwasaki. "There’s no place to lock their bicycles up, and so they end up having to drive.”

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EasyMile @ Bishop Ranch Photo by Noah Berger

EasyMile, a French autonomous vehicle manufacturer, has already deployed shuttles to 19 countries. Contra Costa County is now waiting for permission from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to test on public roads, which it expects in the next few weeks.

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The California DMV told Circa it is "now finalizing regulations that will allow for the driverless testing and public use of autonomous vehicles." It says it expects those regulations to be completed by the end of the year.

The DMV says it currently has 42 manufacturers with testing permits in the sate.

If all goes well, the Contra Costa Transit Authority says it hopes to have these shuttles available to the public by 2020.

Related stories on Circa:
Driverless cars got a green light from the Department of Transportation
Here's how Ford, a 100-year-old car company, is paving the way for autonomous driving
In California, self-driving cars might not need a licensed driver inside

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