Is This The Future Of Mass Transit? Utah’s First Autonomous Bus Debuts

Apr 11, 2019, 6:09 PM | Updated: 6:23 pm

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — Utah showed off the future of mass transit today as transportation leaders took a ride in their first driver-less shuttle bus.

It’s not quite ready for rush hour yet, but the autonomous shuttle will roll into a community near you sometime in the next year.

The Utah Transportation Authority and the Utah Department of Transportation will show off the autonomous vehicle all across the state in the months ahead.

“The ride was great,” said Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox, after taking his first ride around a test track in West Valley City. “It was a little boring which is exactly how it’s supposed to be.”

For a vehicle with no driver, no steering wheel and no pedals, that’s a pretty good review from the lieutenant governor. He joined UDOT and UTA officials on the first official ride. There is a host on board to make sure everything runs smoothly.

“The technology is here,” he said. “It’s being refined. It still has a ways to go. But, there is no question that over the next 10 years we’re going to see major changes on the roads here in Utah.”

The Autonomous Shuttle Pilot Project, rolled out today, gives Utahns a chance to get a close look at the technology.

“We want people to get comfortable with this technology,” he said.  “So, this vehicle travels around, people will have an opportunity to come check it out, to get on board.  These vehicles are being tested all over the country, right now. Not just vehicles of this size, but even big rig trucks.”

Utah is among about a dozen states testing vehicles similar to this one operated by First Mile.

Right now, the 12-passenger shuttle is not ready for traffic. It rides at 15 mph on a pre-programmed route.

The little shuttle is electric: zero emissions. It charges overnight, and can run for 12 hours during the day.

“This is a little, baby step forward,” said Carlos Braceras, Executive Director of UDOT. “But, in the next five years or so, we’re going to see this type of technology, it’s going to be so commonplace we’re not even going to notice it around us.”

Pedestrians will want to notice, even if this shuttle is less likely to be distracted than a human behind the wheel.

The Lt. Gov. was spared a dangerous collision in a crosswalk when he tested the shuttle by stepping in front of it while it drove towards him. The shuttle stopped in plenty of time without hitting him.

“The truth is, it’s much safer than you or I,” said Cox, referring to its driving abilities.

Lt. Governor Spencer Cox took a ride on the bus Thursday.

Lt. Governor Spencer Cox took a ride on the bus Thursday.

In theory, the autonomous shuttle is safer than a human-operated vehicle. National data shows human error is responsible for 94% of crashes.

“There are opportunities for us to actually save lives,” said Cox.

UDOT and UTA hope to improve safety and mobility with this technology.

“It’s important to understand what the technology can do, and also to understand the limitations around the technology.”

The public can check it out at various locations across the state this year.

It will begin its tour at Station Park in Farmington next month. You can track the shuttle’s tour online.

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Is This The Future Of Mass Transit? Utah’s First Autonomous Bus Debuts