On their commutes to work or school, Gainesville residents might come across a 10 feet tall by 13 feet long vehicle driving itself along Southwest Second Avenue.
The autonomous shuttle, funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, is currently in a testing phase until June. But depending on the success of the trial run, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration will allow the shuttle to stay in Gainesville long-term, said Shelby Taylor, spokesperson for the city of Gainesville.
For now, passengers can ride the shuttle free of charge, Taylor said. The city may choose to assign a fee once the testing is finished.
The shuttle, which has six seats and standing room for six more passengers, will operate from 8 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m on a daily route between the Downtown Parking Garage on Southwest Second Street and the Innovation Hub, Taylor said.
Taylor said the shuttle will be able to navigate the streets of Gainesville and transport riders without assistance from a driver.
“The vehicles are automated to identify if there are any obstacles whether it be pedestrians or other vehicles,” Taylor said. “It senses those things to slow down or stop.”
The shuttle is operated by Transdev, a French-based international private public transport operator, under contract with the city of Gainesville’s Regional Transit System, said Taylor.
Although the shuttle is able to operate at speeds up to 25 mph, it will only be going 15 mph during the testing period, with an operator riding along in the event they need to override the automated controls.
“We are putting all precautions in place to ensure that we make this testing phase as safe as possible,” Taylor said.
On Monday morning, representatives from the city of Gainesville, Florida Department of Transportation and UF will gather in Lot 10, located at 100 SW First Ave., for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and inaugural ride in the driverless shuttle, Taylor said.
The driverless shuttle has been in the works for about three years.
In September 2017, the city of Gainesville expected the autonomous vehicles to be on the roads by fall 2018. But two years later, the city was still waiting for approval from the Federal Highway Administration to move forward with the project.
Hannah Williams, a 22-year-old UF computer engineering major, said she’s seen the shuttle near Downtown Parking Garage on Southwest Second Avenue where she parks her car.
Williams said she’s skeptical about how efficient the shuttle will be, given that its slow speed could potentially back up traffic. She’s also concerned it will be a safety hazard.
“If I saw it, I wouldn’t want to get on it,” Williams said. “I’d rather wait for a bus that actually goes the speed limit.”
Contact Sarah Mandile at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sarahmandile.