Imagine a mobility service that offers on-demand, door-to-door capability for all citizens, regardless of physical ability. Gary Miksell, Chief Innovation/Technical Officer of VTA, Silicon Valley’s transit and congestion agency, has been imagining that scenario and has begun putting the pieces in place to test such an approach in a real-world setting at the campus of the Veteran’s Hospital in Palo Alto. Gary Miskell, Chief Innovation/Technical Officer of VTA, Silicon Valley’s transit and congestion agency, has been imagining that scenario and has begun putting the pieces in place to test such an approach in a real-world setting at the campus of the Veteran’s Hospital in Palo Alto.
By focusing on one of the most difficult and expensive transportation challenges, paratransit, the applied research Miskell, and his team are doing could have a huge long-term impact on the way mobility services are delivered in Silicon Valley. As Miskell describes in the above interview, an on-demand shuttle would meet the customer at her home. For those people needing help, a paratransit professional would meet that person and help her launch or end the trip.
What makes this approach unique is there would be one vehicle for both paratransit and mobility-on-demand applications. That is, the shuttle offering paratransit service would also pick up other passengers, regardless of whether they have paratransit needs. In this way, the shuttle assets would be shared across the entire network.
And regarding the network, on-demand, first/last-mile of autonomous shuttles would allow the existing buses to focus on core routes, creating more express-like routes (e.g. fewer stops) with greater frequency (e.g. 5 or 10-minutes between buses, instead of up to an hour). [See this article for more detail on this type of approach, https://viodi.com/2015/09/08/a-transition-steps-to-an-autonomous-transport-future/].
Off-camera, Miskell mentioned that they are working with Local Motors, which are producing an autonomous shuttle that is largely 3D-printed. What makes Local Motors especially good for an agency like VTA is its open, modular nature, which allows different technologies to be mixed and matched. This is especially important when developing an ADA-compliant vehicle that also meets the many rules that a transit agency has to abide by (e.g. Buy American clauses, for instance).
Stay tuned, as testing is expected to start in April or May of 2020.