The future of personal transportation may well include more public transit, and one vision for that future soon will be coming to Toledo in the form of a highly automated bus.
Speaking during a seminar Thursday on how vehicular automation will change public transit, James Gee, general manager of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, announced his agency has received a $1.8 million federal grant to develop an experimental automated public transit route.
The three-year pilot, Mr. Gee said, most likely will use small vehicles similar to a 15-passenger, electric shuttle.
A lot of details still need to be resolved, Mr. Gee said, the first of which will be selecting a vendor to provide vehicles, computer support, and other program elements. The pilot will likely be under way by spring or summer, 2019.
“Our preference is to have a route in downtown Toledo that connects the attractions we have now,” he said.
On display during Thursday’s seminar was a concept for a fixed route connecting Toledo’s UpTown neighborhood and the Toledo Club with downtown Toledo, the Toledo Farmers’ Market, and Middlegrounds Metropark.
Seminar speaker Chris Pauly, the director of business development for vehicle manufacturer Navya, said his company’s electric shuttles already operate in several United States locations, including the main University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor and, since November, in Las Vegas. The French company is building them at a new factory in Saline, Mich., he said.
The shuttles have a top speed of 28 mph but typically operate in the 10-to-15-mph range, and are intended to run on programmed routes a mile or two long, Mr. Pauly said.
Navya also has developed a six-passenger automated vehicle, similar to a taxi, designed for on-demand service within a radius of about 5 miles at a typical driving speed of 30 mph.
Mr. Pauly said Navya’s vehicles are designed to function without needing to communicate with any roadside control devices, although they do need to be able to identify pavement markings, traffic signals, and signs. They use complex arrays of sensors to identify and navigate around other vehicles, pedestrians, and obstacles.
Vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and “vehicle-to-everything” communications technologies are rapidly advancing as part of automation systems, Army Lt. Col. (Ret.) John Tucker, a sales specialist with Path Master, Inc. of Twinsburg, Ohio, told the seminar.
Onboard systems are capable of broadcasting a “basic safety message” about a vehicle’s location and status 10 times per second, Colonel Tucker said, along with provisions for receiving information from outside sources and responding to emergencies.
But numerous challenges still exist, he said, not the least of which are choosing between competing communications platforms, privacy, security, and handling the massive amounts of data involved.
And for a considerable time, automated vehicles will need to be able to interact with conventional ones operated by people, along with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and roadway workers.
“It will take decades [for automation] to reach high levels of saturation in the market,” Colonel Tucker predicted.
Mr. Gee said public transportation has to embrace automation and support technology because “the status quo of public transit doesn’t work” for attracting riders. But transit systems that adapt, he said, will find a ready market in younger generations that “won’t be as interested in private vehicle ownership as we were” because of the cost and complications of ownership.
During TARTA’s pilot program, the experimental buses will have operator/attendants. And while Mr. Pauly said Navya is still working on making its vehicles wheelchair accessible, Mr. Gee said any TARTA-branded vehicle “will be accessible — it absolutely has to be.”
Use of smaller, autonomous vehicles is a key element of MoveToledo, a strategic plan TARTA recently published as its vision for public transportation’s future in Toledo.
The seminar was the third of a scheduled five-part, every-two-months series co-sponsored by UT and the American Automobile Association. Edgar Avila, executive vice president of AAA Northwest Ohio, closed Thursday’s proceedings by calling on local leaders, perhaps organized by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, to set up a public “steering committee” for smart-transit development, as has been done in other cities.
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