Driverless shuttles as campus “people movers”



3 universities launching campus transportation of the future today
By: | February 20, 2019

If Judy Jetson enrolled in college, she might have hopped aboard a self-driving shuttle to get across campus for her astrophysics class and then tapped a few buttons to summon a driver to take her home to her parents, Elroy, Astro and Rosie.

The Jetsons was set in 2062, but some of the high-tech predictions featured in the iconic cartoon are coming true now on college campuses.
“Some of the new options are more affordable and space efficient than conventional transit,” says Art Guzzetti, vice president of policy for the American Public Transportation Association.

Driverless shuttles, once considered far out, are gaining ground on college campuses.

1. High-tech transportation research at Michigan

Mcity, a public-private partnership for transportation research at the University of Michigan, introduced a driverless shuttle at its North Campus (where Mcity is located) in June. It’s helping researchers to better understand how students would respond to high-tech transportation.

Two 11-passenger driverless shuttles, which operate along a one-mile route between parking lots and the North Campus Research Complex, are outfitted with cameras, audio equipment and Wi-Fi communications to capture data and gauge passenger responses, including facial responses and audio comments.

The university also partnered with J.D. Power to survey users about their experiences—with early indications of consumer acceptance.

2. Driverless shuttle partnership at Texas Southern

It took more than a year to set up the team for a driverless shuttle pilot on the campus of Texas Southern University. The university partnered with the city of Houston, local transportation provider METRO and the Houston-Galveston Area Council to secure funding and measure the impact of the driverless shuttle. The shuttle runs on a loop around campus every 10 minutes during peak travel times. If the pilot is successful, the partners hope to link the shuttle route and the city’s light rail station.\

3. Costs and ROI examined at Sacramento State

As it plots a course for a driverless shuttle pilot in spring 2019, Sacramento State University officials are laser-focused on the costs and potential return on investment.

The California campus plans to run a driverless shuttle between campus and the light rail station in the hopes of curbing traffic congestion, easing parking woes and making the trek between the points more efficient. The cost of the one-year pilot project is expected to top $300,000, but officials believe there’s value in embracing more sustainable modes of transportation; electric- and battery-operated autonomous vehicles emit fewer greenhouse gases than conventional buses, for example.

The campus has 13,000 parking spots for 36,000 students and staff, and adding parking is expensive. Running the driverless shuttle on part of an existing pedestrian path will also speed up its route, allowing one shuttle to replace two existing buses running between the light rail station and campus.

Melissa Nicefaro is UB’s editorial assistant.

Read more in our September 2018 article by Jodi Helmer.