driverless shuttles toronto

Toronto wants to test self-driving transit shuttles

One of the biggest issues facing public transit agencies today is the gap in service between a rider's home and their nearest bus or subway stop.

How can we encourage motorists to choose public transportation when it's so much less convenient? When they have to walk for 20 minutes to get to a GO station, on streets that were designed for automobiles, when they could simply drive instead?

Urban planners call it the "first mile/last mile" problem and a growing body of research suggests that autonomous vehicles could be part of the solution.

A report set to go before Toronto's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee next Tuesday details a $1.2 million pilot project that would bring driverless transit shuttles to the streets of Toronto.

The pilot project, called "Minding The Gap", would launch in 2020 to "research and test an automated shuttle that can operate without a driver."

"Automated shuttles typically seat 8-12 passengers and are designed to travel in low speed, low-volume environments," reads the report. 

"Most are electric-powered and operate at an automation level of four ("high automation"), as per the scale established by the Society of Automotive Engineers."

No specific part of town has been selected for the shuttle (or shuttles) to operate in, but the report specifies that they won't be tested on an existing transit route.

All that's been revealed in terms of location so far is that service will be located within the City of Toronto and that it will  connect to at least one rapid transit station — either TTC or GO Transit.

The idea is to fill an unmet public transit need within the City of Toronto — basically, to bridge the first mile/last mile gap in underserved areas.

Safety appears to be top of mind for the city staffers who've prepared the report (the General Managers of Transportation Services and Economic Development).

They specify that the type of  vehicle chosen for the pilot will be "an established shuttle model that has been tested in other jurisdictions" such as those in Las VegasCalgary, Stockholm and Singapore

Furthermore, these self-driving shuttles won't be unmanned.

"While an on-board driver is not required to operate the vehicle, this pilot project will include 'ambassadors' who will staff the vehicle at all times," reads the report.

"These ambassadors will be paid staff by the TTC and Metrolinx, and forms the bulk of their contributions to the project."

The city departments spearheading this project now only need authorization from council to "enter into the necessary agreements with Metrolinx, TTC and the Federal Government to advance this project. "

Many transportation and tech companies that produce these vehicles already exist, though the city hasn't put forth any specific recommendations as to the brand or model they're looking for.

If everything moves forward as planned, work on the project should begin next year.

"The project is intended to provide exposure to and experience with this new type of vehicle for local transit operators the TTC and Metrolinx, and for the City's Transportation Services Division," reads the report.

"The pilot shuttle service will also allow the public to learn about these new vehicles."

Heck yeah, robocars! 

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