Fairfax County and Dominion Energy are testing a driverless electrical shuttle. The Relay, a 13-foot-long blue bus is expected to begin regular service this fall, shuttling passengers back and forth between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and the county’s Mosaic District.
The service will be free. Users will be able track the Relay’s position with an app.
The 12-passenger shuttle, an EZ10, is now learning its fixed route, undergoing testing and awaiting approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to begin passenger operations, reports the Washington Post.
“We feel good about their safety record,” said Julie Manzari, innovation strategist at Dominion. The shuttle travels at a top speed of 15 miles per hour. Continually scanning the environment, the vehicle slows in a smooth stop for obstacles in its path. If something jumps in front, it makes an emergency stop.
The biggest challenge in gaining consumer acceptance may not be vehicle safety but the general wariness of mass transit during the COVID-19 epidemic. As Time has observed, the virus has been “apocalyptic” for transit ridership.
Bacon’s bottom line: Whether it takes months or years, the virus scare will dissipate, and people will return to their old commuting habits. Traffic congestion in Northern Virginia isn’t getting any better, and mass transit is an unavoidable necessity. However, operating buses is expensive. Bus drivers don’t come cheap. Eliminating bus drivers will make mass transit more affordable.
One other thing I like about the Relay: It’s small. It is insane to build fleets of expensive giant buses that utilize only a fraction of their seating capacity. Successful mass transit systems need more small and midsized vehicles that match consumer demand on the routes served.
The Relay is a worthy experiment. Smaller, driverless vehicles may be what it takes to resurrect mass transit in Virginia.
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