IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Do AV Shuttle Rides Change Perceptions of Their Feasibility?

A small North Carolina town hosted a test pilot of an all-electric, autonomous public transportation shuttle. Survey data reveals what riders said about how they felt before and after riding. 

A self-driving Beep shuttle in Cary, N.C.
A self-driving Beep shuttle in Cary, N.C., travels a four-stop route as part of a pilot project with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Source: Town of Cary, N.C.
As local and state governments ponder the idea of driverless public transit, there’s an important question they need to answer — will people actually want to ride in an autonomous vehicle?

Survey results from a small pilot program in North Carolina provide some hints.

This summer, the North Carolina Department of Public Transportation (NCDOT) completed a 13-week test pilot of the Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation (CASSI) manufactured by France-based Navya, operated by Florida-based Beep. The pilot project took place in Cary's Bond Park, where the CASSI shuttle operated with a combination of GPS, camera and lidar technology to transport up to eight people at time. The shuttle was staffed with an attendant who could override the autonomous features if necessary.

According to usage data from the pilot period, the shuttle completed nearly 500 round trips and transported 1,718 passengers in the course of 13 weeks. It was operational for 85 percent of its scheduled hours, with an insufficient battery being the most common reason it was out of service.

NCDOT created an online survey that was accessible through a URL and QR code at shuttle stops and inside the shuttle. The survey collected 145 responses from people who rode the CASSI shuttle. Riders who took the survey ranged in age from under 18 to 70-plus years old.


Historically, the public has been skeptical about the safety of self-driving vehicles. In 2017, a Pew Research Center survey found that 56 percent of Americans would not want to ride in a driverless vehicle if given the chance, with many citing a lack of trust or not wanting to give up control as the reason.

The NCDOT survey asked all CASSI riders two questions related to safety: “Before riding the shuttle I felt that driverless vehicles are __?,” and “After riding the shuttle I feel that driverless vehicles are __?”

Possible responses included “very safe,” “safe,” “neither safe or unsafe,” “unsafe” and “very unsafe.”
After riding in the CASSI shuttle, most people who initially responded that driverless vehicles are “neither safe or unsafe” changed their opinion to “safe” or “very safe.” More than half of people who considered driverless vehicles “unsafe” or “very unsafe” responded that driverless vehicles made them feel “safe” or “very safe” after riding CASSI.

The age demographic with the least improved perceptions about the safety of driverless vehicles after riding on CASSI were those aged 50-69 years. Riders below the age of 29 expressed the greatest feelings of safety about driverless vehicles after riding the shuttle.

The survey prompted people who didn’t feel safe to explain why. Some had concerns about the abruptness of the shuttle brakes, which they described as “hard stops” and “jerking.” Some commented that the shuttle traveled too close for comfort to parked cars or “passed uncomfortably close to a cyclist that was riding on the wrong side of the road.” Others felt the AV’s attendant had to intervene to correct the shuttle at traffic signals too frequently.


On average, CASSI operated at about 5 mph, reaching a maximum speed of just more than 11 mph. People typically walk at speeds between 2 and 4 mph.

NCDOT's survey also asked riders to respond to the prompt, “The shuttle arrived at my stop within a reasonable amount of time.”
According to the data, 77 percent of passengers “agreed” or “strongly agreed.” Riders in the 30-49 age group were the least likely to agree that the shuttle got them to where they were going in a reasonable amount of time.


The survey question that might lend the biggest glimpse into rider perceptions for the future of AV public transit is “Would you ride the shuttle again?”

The survey responses were overwhelmingly positive, with 81 percent of people expressing they would ride in an AV shuttle again. Most respondents who offered a reason described the experience as “fun.”
The reasoning of riders who responded “no” was broad. One respondent under the age of 18 said the shuttle was “boring.” Other respondents across age groups said they wouldn’t ride the shuttle again due to the abruptness of the breaks, it was too slow, or expressed a concern about safety.

As for the future of CASSI, it’s moved to a new testing ground.

NCDOT has partnered with the University of North Carolina for a pilot that will run until Dec. 22, 2023.

According to NCDOT, this test will be the most complex project to date, as it has the most traffic signals, longest route, longest duration and most intense mixed traffic environment requiring the shuttle to navigate traffic as well as shared stops with campus buses.
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.