Born from a web of partnerships, including the Smart Columbus initiative kicked off with a U.S. Department of Transportation grant two years ago, Ohio's capital city is now opening its self-driving shuttle to the public.
(TNS) — Passengers can ride Ohio's first self-driving shuttle along the Scioto Mile in Columbus starting Monday.
Smart Circuit will operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week at no charge to riders. Smart Columbus and DriveOhio, in partnership with Ohio State University, are leading the initiative. The shuttles are operated by May Mobility, a Michigan-based startup. The Ohio Department of Transportation's DriveOhio is the state agency devoted to autonomous vehicle research.
"Smart Circuit gives us an opportunity to learn more about self-driving technology in real time as we work to improve our city's transportation ecosystem," Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said in a news release.
The shuttle, which reaches a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, will make four stops along the 1.4-mile route along the Scioto Mile at COSI, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Bicentennial Park and the Smart Columbus Experience Center.
"Ohio's investment in smart mobility technologies will ultimately lead to safer, less congested roadways and better access to jobs, community services and commerce," Gov. John Kasich said in a news release. "Ohioans can now see for themselves how these technologies will transform the future of our state."
This will be the first of many self-driving vehicle systems DriveOhio will announce in the next couple of years, DriveOhio Director Jim Barna said. Columbus, Dublin, Athens and Marysville have all signed agreements with DriveOhio to test autonomous and connected vehicles, as well as smart-mobility infrastructure.
"Ninety-four percent of all our crashes are human error," Barna said. "This technology doesn't text, it doesn't comb its hair, eat a cheeseburger or anything like that, so it can provide a safer driving experience."
Even though the shuttle is self-driving, an on-board operator will oversee it and can take control if need be. The shuttles can hold up to six people, including the operator.
The pilot for the May Mobility shuttles launched in September, traveling along the Scioto Mile route without passengers. This is part of an initiative announced in July by Smart Columbus and DriveOhio.
"This is an exciting evolution," Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer said. "We have a fundamental belief: A kid born today won't need a driver's license."
Columbus City Councilman Emmanuel Remy took his first ride in an autonomous vehicle Tuesday afternoon in a May Mobility shuttle.
"It was uneventful, which was what we're looking for," he said.
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