autobus sign

"Autobus only" signs are appearing at bus stops across Gainesville. This sign is located outside Innovation Hub on Southwest Second Avenue.

Gainesville residents will be able to board a driverless RTS bus as early as Aug. 20. Until then, a team of UF researchers wants your opinion on it. One might approach you at a crowded bus stop to get it.

Researchers from UF’s Transportation Institute are visiting busy bus stops, like Rawlings Hall, to distribute QR code-covered slips of paper and spread the word about their new online survey.

Launched July 16, the survey collects data on public perception of the self-driving “Gainesville Autobus,” both before and after people start interacting with it. The city first revealed the autobus last May, which is part of a pilot program funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The autobuses will only be driving on a section of Southwest Second Avenue, starting in downtown and turning around at Innovation Square, according to a video by UF Transportation. Only autobuses will be on this route, and it is planned for the route to extend from Depot Park to UF over time.

Anh Le, a 21-year-old biochemistry senior, said she knew the autobus was being discussed but wasn’t aware it would be operational as soon as August.

She said she has mixed feelings about the autobus and that unemployment could be a potential setback of its program.

“[The autobus] would decrease the manpower you would need,” she said, “so more people would lose their jobs.”

Pruthvi Manjunatha, a postdoctoral researcher and project manager of the study, said researchers will analyze the general trend of Gainesville residents’ opinions and demographic information, like age. Researchers will also look at how public opinion changes after the autobus starts running.

Using a theory called the technology acceptance model, the team will investigate what factors positively or negatively affect people’s opinions of the autobus. Once the analysis is complete, the researchers will send the results to the city, he said.

“We also need to see what doesn't work so that the people who are implementing this project can know what to change,” Manjunatha said.

Manjunatha said he is excited to see people’s thoughts about the autobus roll in.

“What happens, especially in the engineering community... we’re so good with mathematics and models and technology [that] we often forget who we are designing this [for],” he said. “It’s about the public and the people.”

The survey for autobus opinions is at tinyurl.com/rtsautobus.