- The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro) has approved its first pilot program for autonomous shuttle service in Houston.
- The $250,000 pilot will take place on a mile-long route at the Texas Southern University campus but could expand to other parts of the city and connect with other transit options if deemed successful.
- The driverless shuttles are expected to be the size of small buses, travel at about 12 miles per hour and will have a backup driver on board at all times for safety.
Besides just showcasing an up-and-coming technology, the free shuttle service gives Metro a chance to study some aspects of modern transit that could be incorporated into upgrades in other parts of the system. Metro is interested in learning more about how driverless vehicles could improve first mile/last mile transit connections, as well as other places such short-trip service would prove beneficial, like business parks and medical centers. The research will allow Metro to identify future opportunities for incorporating autonomous shuttles on a greater scale.
The one-mile route proposed for the pilot is a smart choice because it is open to pedestrians and cyclists, but vehicular traffic is not allowed. That presents a safer, more controlled environment for testing the shuttles than launching the program on busy public roads.
Metro hasn't actually purchased the vehicles yet, but it offered information about the design and features it's investigating, such as the slow-speed, small bus-sized shuttles. That would make the vehicles similar to those used in autonomous shuttle pilots in Denver, Las Vegas and at the University of Michigan.