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Self-driving Shuttle arrives in San Francisco Days after Robotaxis Approved

Updated: Jan 8

[Edited] San Francisco has recently launched an autonomous shuttle service, just a week after regulators approved the expansion of robotaxis, despite concerns about safety and traffic.

Self-driving shuttle
Credits: ridebeep

The city joins a growing number of cities worldwide that are testing driverless buses.

The shuttle service will operate on a fixed route called the Loop, which connects residential neighborhoods with stores and community centers on Treasure Island, located in the middle of San Francisco Bay. The shuttle, an all-electric vehicle without a driver's seat or steering wheel, will be staffed with an attendant who can take control if necessary. The service is part of a grant-funded pilot program to assess the potential of autonomous vehicles in supplementing public transit.

Tilly Chang, the executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, emphasized the importance of having an attendant on board to ensure passenger comfort. She stated, "This is just a demonstration for now to see, what does it look like and how does it work to have a driverless shuttle in a low-volume, low-speed environment?"

The shuttle service is operated by Beep, a company based in Orlando, Florida, that has previously run similar pilot programs in various U.S. communities, including the Miami Zoo, Mayo Clinic, and Yellowstone National Park. Shelley Caran, the project manager at Beep, explained that the shuttles are designed for short connectivity routes and are not intended to replace traditional bus systems. She highlighted the advantages of autonomous vehicles, stating, "The autonomous vehicle will have a better reaction time than a human, and it will offer a more reliable service because they won't be distracted."

During a test ride, the shuttle operated in autonomous mode, with an attendant manually steering the vehicle when necessary. Dominic Lucchesi, an Oakland resident who was among the first to ride the autonomous shuttle, expressed his overall satisfaction, stating, "I didn't feel unsafe. I thought that it made some abrupt stops, but otherwise, I felt like I was riding any other bus for the most part."

The shuttle, which can accommodate up to 10 passengers, will operate from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, making a loop every 20 minutes. San Francisco currently has two shuttles, allowing one to charge while the other transports passengers.

The launch of the autonomous shuttle service follows the approval by the California Public Utilities Commission for Cruise and Waymo, two rival robotaxi companies, to offer around-the-clock passenger service in San Francisco. However, there have been complaints about unexpected stops, traffic disruptions, and blocking emergency vehicles caused by the driverless taxis. In response, the city has requested a pause in the robotaxi expansion.

While concerns have been raised about the safety and potential issues with driverless vehicles, experts believe that having trained operators or attendants on board will be necessary for the foreseeable future. Nikolas Martelaro, an autonomous vehicle researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, emphasized the importance of human involvement, stating, "Trained operators are going to be required even as we increase automation."

Autonomous buses have the potential to enhance safety, but the requirement of having drivers or attendants on board may undermine one of their perceived advantages, which is reduced labor costs. Art Guzzetti, the vice president at the American Public Transportation Association, highlighted the need to find a market for autonomous buses that improves efficiency without eliminating jobs.

  • San Francisco has launched an autonomous shuttle service on Treasure Island.

  • The shuttle operates on a fixed route called the Loop, connecting residential neighborhoods with stores and community centers.

  • The shuttle is staffed with an attendant and is part of a pilot program to assess the potential of autonomous vehicles in public transit.

Source: AP

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