Cap Metro ponders running driverless shuttles in downtown Austin


The transit agency will tell board Monday about a possible driverless route on East Fourth and Cesar Chavez.

The 12-month pilot, according to a presentation, could begin by late 2018.

It is unclear if the agency has begun any sort of bidding process to get a shuttle company on board.

Downtown Austin could see pod-like driverless shuttles by the end of the year under a pilot program Capital Metro is considering.

The agency, according to a presentation to be given to the Capital Metro board Monday afternoon, foresees having a fleet of six electric, autonomous shuttles running a route between the MetroRail station on East Fourth Street, Austin City Hall, the new downtown library on West Cesar Chavez Street and Republic Square on Guadalupe Street near West Fourth Street.

“Service to begin late fall 2018,” the PowerPoint presentation states about the 12-month pilot, adding that operating hours and a specific route are still to be determined. The presentation does not address if people would have to pay to ride the “last mile” shuttle.

The board will not be asked to take action on the proposal during today’s meeting, and it was unclear Monday morning what if any votes would come before the board in the coming months regarding the shuttles.

The presentation also contemplates training or testing of “operators w/o riders,” raising questions about just how driverless the small vehicles would be.

The Capital Metro presentation also includes a photograph of a shuttle from Navya, a Lyon, France-based company that has autonomous, electric shuttles or cabs operating in at least 14 cities around the world. That includes Las Vegas, where a pilot program has been running since November, and Ann Arbor, Mich.

A Navya spokesman said Monday he was not aware that the company had any sort of agreement to operate anywhere in Texas. Capital Metro officials could not immediately say what role, if any, Navya has with the shuttle pilot.

Austin has seen autonomous vehicles on its streets in recent years, primarily Google vehicles being tested in the Mueller development. However, those vehicles had drivers behind the wheel to take over in case of trouble, and they did not carry members of the general public. Beyond that, Mueller offers a much less challenging streetscape for an autonomous vehicle than does downtown Austin, with its congested menagerie of cars, trucks, pedestrians, bicycles and scooters.

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