Future plans for the Skyway will include creating access points along existing routes that will allow the driverless vehicles to leave the elevated pathway and merge onto roadways on dedicated lanes.
(TNS) -- Jacksonville residents and officials boarded a driverless vehicle Wednesday to experience what likely will be the future of transit here.
The rounded red-and-black vehicle navigated its way seamlessly through the parking lot across from Intuition Ale Works on East Bay Street. It slipped past a concrete pole without bumping the obstacle — and when a reporter accidentally stepped in front of the oncoming vehicle, it stopped.
Jacksonville Transportation Authority executives are turning to driverless vehicles to replace the aging and limited Skyway rail system and worked with a vendor to offer a demonstration for those interested. The Easy Mile EZ10 allowed approximately 100 potential customers to see, touch and ride a vehicle that utilizes the next generation autonomous technology.
What these residents seemed to care about most, however, wasn’t the new technology, but the reliability of the system. They wanted to know could it get them from where they are, to where they want to be — and a lot of times, they said, that isn’t on the current Skyway route.
“The opportunity to perhaps expand the mass transportation here in Jacksonville,” Lamar Campbell said when asked what drew him to the demonstration. “The Skyway doesn’t go to many places. It’s very expensive to maintain, and expansion is a tremendous burden on taxpayers.”
“We know right now our transit doesn’t nearly reach all areas,” said Jennifer Kennedy, a traffic engineer in Jacksonville.
Though she’s never been in an autonomous vehicle before, she believes the smaller vehicle will allow more versatility and allow JTA to reach further into the city.
She isn’t wrong.
Future plans for the Skyway will include removing the guide beam from current infrastructure and creating access points along existing routes. These points will allow the driverless vehicles to leave the elevated pathway and merge onto roadways on dedicated lanes. This way, JTA can expand into areas such as Riverside, Brooklyn and San Marco without constructing additional structures within the communities.
According to Brad Thoburn, JTA vice president of planning, development and innovation, the authority plans also decrease the wait times for customers at each stop from every six to eight minutes, to every two to three minutes. As a result, JTA will have to invest in more driverless vehicles, but they come at a much smaller price tag than the approximately $5 million it costs to replace an existing Skyway vehicle.
The transportation authority has not announced a time line, cost or specifics for moving forward with the expanded system. It has also not decided which vendor or automated vehicles to use, but executives believe it is well-situated to take advantage of the rapidly-developing technology.
Last month, the board approved moving into the development phase of the project, which JTA has named the Ultimate Urban Circulator.
“The [Ultimate Urban Circulator Program] will help drive economic growth through enhanced mobility, connectivity, sustained economic growth and vibrancy for Jacksonville,” said Nathaniel Ford Sr., CEO of JTA.
©2017 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.