An enthusiastic group of transit experts, bus manufacturers, technology vendors, and transportation directors from some of the nation’s largest cities are working together to move passengers toward the next evolution in public transit: automated buses.
Representatives participating in the newly formed Automated Bus Consortium met in mid-September in Detroit at the invitation of Michigan officials, the state’s department of transportation and PlanetM.
The Industry Forum, which included more than 100 key decision makers, sought to establish the next steps in creating pilot programs, forge conversations around developing new products and generate communication across municipalities as automated-bus programs roll forward.
Formed in May, the Automated Bus Consortium seeks to bring together all sides of the transportation equation that will eventually lead to automated buses, routes, and projects across the United States, said Dick Wolsfeld, executive vice president of AECOM, a network for design, engineering, construction and management professionals who focus on infrastructure.
“We want to deploy full-size, accessible, Level 4 buses nationwide,” Wolsfeld said, explaining that Level 4 refers to buses where the driver is still on board yet there are automated features available that allows the vehicle to perform all driving functions under certain conditions.
The Consortium, which based in California, organized the Industry Forum to bring everyone together in the same room. The conversations focused on learning about the consortium, finding out where pilot projects might go, what those routes would look like, and having one-on-one meetings to go over new partnerships and programs related to the overall project.
PlanetM and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) helped host the event. These organizations joined the Automated Bus Consortium in the early stages and are working toward the common goal of putting automated buses on the road in real time.
Officials said Michigan wants to be the forefront of this movement, bringing 40-foot automated buses to pilot a project in the state. Possible pilot projects could take place in Grand Rapids, East Lansing and the rural Bad Axe area.
Event organizers praised Michigan for its “open for business” attitude toward mobility projects and automated transport options, and its leave response to the consortium.
The pilot projects will use full-sized, full-speed buses, which will enable consortium members to collectively demonstrate and deploy automated technologies in live service environments. The consortium will make an expected initial purchase of 75 to 100 automated buses, and the goal is to have these projects up and running by 2021 or 2022, organizers said.
Consortium members also include — Long Beach Transit; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; MetroLINK; Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority; Minnesota Department of Transportation/Rochester Public Transit; Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority; and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation/Hampton Roads Transit.