“Hey, Bus Driver!” is what Madison passengers WON’T be saying on the new shuttle bus scheduled to begin operating in Madison, Wisconsin’s downtown. That’s because the 15-passenger people-hauler will be automated, electric and driverless.
There will be a driver on the shuttle’s initial runs actually, to watch out for safety, observe how the vehicle is functioning and reacting in traffic, and to answer passenger’s questions. The forthcoming venture is planned as a demonstration – a analysis project, that is, whose mission is not only to carry passengers but to be a test buggy, studied by researchers who aim to make autonomous vehicles part of the country’s transportation system. The United States Department of Transportation, chose Madison, Wisconsin (headquarters of TrafficCast International!) as one of only 10 cities to examine automated shuttles in real-time traffic. The one-to-two-year project will be guided by members of the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Traffic operations and Safety (TOPS) Laboratory.
The idea for a long-term study picked up steam last April when a 15-passenger shuttle bus made by the French company Navya carried a total of 750 passengers on test rides around the UW campus over a two-day period.
For a route, city officials have targeted a near East-side revival corridor, burgeoning with newly-built high rise apartment buildings, and chic taverns and eateries. Initial plans have the driverless shuttle traveling an 8-block course from the State Capitol to a new music venue and back.
Passengers will ride at no charge during the driverless bus’s test phase. Researchers will be grading how the vehicle reacts to stimuli like bicycles and sudden situations, and how seamlessly, or not, it negotiates traffic while reaching a top speed of only 28 miles per hour. Engineers say trips may be suspended during icy weather.
City officials see many plusses from the use of automated vehicles, from easing traffic congestion and pollution, to diminishing the scramble for limited downtown parking spaces, to offering late night transport.
Project managers are accepting bids presently from shuttle companies, and hope to have the project launched, and driverless trolley cars on city streets, by fall, 2019.