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Toledo’s Autonomous Shuttle Program Stalls a Year On

Despite securing a $1.8 million federal air-quality grant last year, the Ohio region’s transit authority is slowing down on plans to pilot autonomous people movers in the city later this year.

by David Patch, The Blade / August 13, 2019
Toledo, Ohio Shutterstock/Jacob Boomsma

(TNS) — Last summer, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority made a big splash at a local transportation-technology seminar by announcing it had secured a $1.8 million federal grant to support development of a self-driving shuttle bus in downtown Toledo.

But while its goal was to have the pilot program testing in the city sometime this year, the project has yet to get out of the garage.

“The technology for this program isn’t moving forward as quickly as was originally anticipated so the project is on hold for now,” Amy Mohr, the transit authority’s spokesman, said last week.

Etienne Hermite, the new chief executive officer of Navya — the French company with a Saline, Mich. plant whose shuttle prototype was displayed during the “Technology Takes the Wheel” program June 21, 2018 at the University of Toledo — used similar language in a statement posted July 25 to the Business Wire news service in which he explained why the company’s progress in developing its autonomous vehicles was slowing down and it was branching out into becoming a technology supplier to others. Navya also reduced revenue targets announced previously in an initial public offering.

“The market is still in an experimentation phase, as complete autonomy has not yet been achieved, the regulatory framework has yet to be uniformly established and economic models are continuing to evolve,” Mr. Hermite said. “We have decided to adapt our business model: thus, we will now provide our technology to industrials who want to make their vehicles autonomous (goods and passengers transport). Thanks to this new orientation, I am convinced that the teams’ commitment and our technological leadership will be decisive assets that will enable us to seize market opportunities and make NAVYA a world leader in autonomous driving systems”.

James Gee, TARTA’s general manager at the time, said one day before Navya’s announcement that the transit authority was still working on its project, but that it might go in a new direction.

“We have an operating grant in hand for improving air quality for $1.8 million dollars that is to be slated for the autonomous vehicle project,” said Mr. Gee, who was suspended July 25 and then terminated a week later, officially because of job performance but also shortly after his arrest on a drunken driving charge. “We are working with FTA [the Federal Transit Administration] on other grant opportunities and how to leverage this grant to make the project move forward.”

TARTA is not on the hook for any money because it didn’t actually receive the grant funds.

The grant was from a Federal Highway Administration air-quality program that would have applied to the electric vehicles TARTA expected Navya to develop for the operation. But the funds are locally distributed by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments and had only been designated for TARTA, not paid, said Krystal Freyre, another authority spokesman.

That wasn’t going to happen until the Federal Transit Administration approved the program, and that approval has been drawn out because the transit administration’s standards don’t yet include any provision for autonomous vehicles.

“The Federal Transit Administration ... is continuing to work with TARTA to determine the eligibility of TARTA’s proposed autonomous bus project for federal funding and to ensure that the project complies with federal requirements,” an agency spokesman said in response to a query about the project’s funding.

©2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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