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California DMV permits driverless shuttle to test on public roads

Dive Brief:

  • California's Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), in partnership with GoMentum Station, announced it is now testing a 12-passenger, low-speed autonomous shuttle at Bishop Ranch, a multi-use business community in the city of San Ramon.
  • The electric shuttle, manufactured by Easymile, is not equipped with a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator. Members of the general public are not yet able to ride the autonomous shuttle, but it is anticipated that in the coming year, employees within the Bishop Ranch community will be permitted to ride.
  • This is reportedly the first time the California DMV has allowed a driverless shuttle to travel on public roads, according to CCTA. In a press release, DMV Director Jean Shiomoto called this a "milestone," and noted that the DMV "has been working for years to bring this groundbreaking technology to California’s roadways while ensuring safety of the motoring public."

Dive Insight:

Operating the Easymile vehicle on public roads is actually the third phase of testing for this initiative, following two years of tests at AV proving grounds and in parking lots. The 585-acre Bishop Ranch site was reportedly the selected spot due to its reputation as a "dynamic center for modern business."

Though officials have called this latest achievement a milestone for California, they've also made it clear the permission for this initiative is separate from the California DMV's AV testing program that has been underway since 2014. AVs have actually been tested across the state for quite some time now, making California a leader in autonomous technology. Last week, the DMV even announced it will allow auto companies to test their self-driving vehicles on public roads without a human safety driver in the vehicle, following permitting processes in April.

Driverless shuttles, however, may add more value to cities in the long run, compared to "traditionally" developed AVs that carry fewer passengers. By promoting a safe, zero-emission transportation option that can serve as a first-mile/last-mile transit solution, cities like San Ramon can encourage more shared vehicle usage and potentially decrease congestion and associated vehicle emissions. 

Las Vegas recently rolled out a driverless shuttle of its own — the first ever on a U.S. public road — as part of a year-long pilot project that will assess rider and bystander attitudes toward AVs. Though the shuttle was involved in a minor accident on its first day, Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Nevada, touted the shuttle's success at a recent AV summit. Additionally, Denver began testing autonomous shuttles in December, with full operation expected this spring.



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