Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment

A 21st Century Transit Solution – Piloted in Houston Without Pilots

6/19/18 Update The associated RFP, which was just issued today can be found at: (PDF) Section X starting on page 22, provides an overview of phase 1 and 2 of this pilot project. They are hoping to have the pilot online by October 2018.
An autonomous first/last-mile circulator/shuttle combined with autonomous buses that connect disparate business districts could be the long-term solution to Houston’s traffic and congestion woes. Speaking at the SmartDrivingCar Summit, Sam Lott, Research Assistant Professor at Texas Southern University and Principal at Automated Mobility Services, LLC, describes a soon-to-be pilot that will launch on the campuses of Texas Southern University and the University of Houston that will provide, low-speed, autonomous mini-buses to ferry people across campus [6/19/18 update – (PDF).

Eventually, these shuttles will connect directly with the METRO, high-capacity, transit system. What makes the Houston METRO system unique is that is essentially a freeway-within-a-freeway, protected from single occupancy car traffic and with separate ingress and egress points for the buses that ply this 21st century alternative to rail (The Transportation Review Board posted an early review of the economics and utilization of this system as found in this PDF). This configuration of barrier protected HOV lanes with direct connector lanes to and from transit centers along the freeway corridors makes the METRO transitway system a great candidate for early deployment of autonomous buses.

The long-term goal is to connect Houston’s four main business districts. Lott suggests that transit centers, where the low-speed, first/last mile autonomous shuttles meet the longer-range, higher-speed autonomous buses, could be transformed into relatively high-density developments that become urban villages along the transit corridors. Lott says this is consistent with the long-term vision of the Houston-Galveston Area Council to create Livable Centers that are human-scale developments which reduce reliance on single occupancy vehicles.

[Note, this is also consistent with what a group of Silicon Valley people, this author included, are advocating for with their “freeway-within-a-freeway” and “capping the freeway” effort].

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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One reply on “A 21st Century Transit Solution – Piloted in Houston Without Pilots”

At the 2019 SmartDrivingCar Summit, Sam Lott reports that they are about to begin testing the EZ Mile Shuttle. Further, he wrote this excellent opinion piece on how this could evolve into a complete system that includes platooning of autonomous buses on protected lanes to deal with what he calls a transportation crisis in Houston. Links to his paper and his lecture on it can be found here:

Executive Summary:





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