The state’s public transit agency has acquired two new driverless vehicles they plan to take out for a test drive next year, potentially leading to a transportation transformation in the First State.
The new autonomous technology vehicles are made by EasyMile, a Toulouse, France-based manufacturer that has deployed driverless shuttles around the world including Saudi Arabia, Australia and Germany. EasyMile vehicles have been developed for both industrial and human transit uses and are used in cities, airports, universities and business parks.
A spokesperson for DelDOT, the parent agency of DART, said the bus operator would be testing and evaluating the new technology in 2020. Each new vehicle, which has seating for six but can accommodate up to 15 standing, costs approximately $500,000.
John Sisson, CEO of the Delaware Transit Corporation, which operates DART’s fleet said the new shuttles will have on-site attendants with the ability to take control of the machines at any time. He said the electronic vehicles would first be tested at DelDOT’s Dover campus where the public will have an opportunity to experience them firsthand while the agency evaluates their use.
“Our goal is to demonstrate the technology to understand how we can make transportation safer and more efficient,” said Sisson, citing the potential benefits of “vehicles talking to each other and traffic signals.”
“There’s a lot more to be learned about them,” he said.
In the US, automated transit vehicles have been piloted in municipalities across the country, according to the American Public Transportation Association, including earlier this year in Houston, Texas.
It is not clear what, if any policy changes may be needed to allow for full deployment of autonomous transit vehicles. Sisson said the current “laws didn’t anticipate the technology when they were written.”
The University of Delaware and DelDOT announced they would begin testing a new driverless shuttle on the school’s STAR Campus this past spring, saying at that time, “should the… tests prove positive, the bus may start running routes in Newark.” That effort apparently has not yet come to fruition.
Disruptive automated technologies are increasingly turning the manufacturing, retail, distribution and transportation industries upside down. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang has made the employment impact on American workers a centerpiece of his campaign.
A comment from “DART First State” on the agency’s Facebook page post heralding the delivery of the two new vehicles stated, “we value our bus operators, and have no intention of replacing them.”
Sisson said the intention “is not to replace bus drivers” noting the role of the onboard attendants.