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AAA Acquires Largest Autonomous Vehicle Test Site in the Country

GoMentum Station in California has been been under management of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. The move is expected to boost visibility of AVs for AAA's 60 million members.

The largest autonomous vehicle test site in the United States has been acquired by AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah, one of the most familiar car-club brands in the country.

GoMentum Station, an AV testing site in Concord, Calif., in the Bay Area, has been bought by the West Coast AAA organization, in a move to continue and expand the numerous AV testing projects, which range from self-driving personal cars to shuttle vehicles.

GoMentum Station was under the management of the Contra Costa (County) Transportation Authority (CCTA), which is still heavily involved in the facility’s operations.

“I think the companies that test out of GoMentum Station shouldn’t notice a big difference between the way we ran it, and the way AAA is running it,” said Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Costra Costa Transportation Authority. 

Going forward, GoMentum Station will introduce a new “signal lab” in roughly the next month, say officials. The lab will be a place to test AV infrastructure, such as roadside connectivity equipment. A number of similar connected vehicle pilot projects are already up and running in Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and other states.

“GoMentum's signal lab will help cities test multiple [dedicated short-range] communication technologies, to see how they each work with a city's existing traffic infrastructure before the city embarks on an expensive pilot with many unknown factors,” said Michael Blasky, a spokesman for AAA of Northern California. “This will help cities implement this technology with lower costs, more efficiency and faster speeds.”

AAA declined to disclose its investment amount into GoMentum Station.

“As a private not-for-profit organization with a broad national network, we believe we can leverage our history as a transportation advocate to build upon the work of CCTA at GoMentum, and ensure this technology is developed safely,” he added, in an email.

The relationship between AAA and GoMentum Station is not new. In November 2017, the two partnered on “an exclusive agreement to study and test how autonomous vehicles can be safely implemented for public use,” according to CCTA at the time. The deal was intended to explore how AV technology could work to reduce car crashes, as well as familiarize the technology with AAA’s nearly 60 million members.

“As a consumer advocate, we believe collaboration between automakers, technology companies, government agencies and safety organizations like AAA is absolutely vital in securing the public's trust in this new form of mobility,” Blasky added in an email.

AAA recently developed safety test criteria for self-driving cars, which it tested with Torc Robotics, an autonomous vehicle company headquartered in Blacksburg, Va.

“In the future, we plan on partnering with other AV companies to test their technology with the same criteria,” said Blasky.

AAA's acquisition of GoMentum Station opens up more resources available for the facility, for both capital improvements and staff, said Iwasaki, who noted that under CCTA ownership, GoMentum’s staff count stood at 20.

CCTA will remain the conduit for working through the procedures to allow car companies and others testing at GoMentum Station to test on public streets. CCTA will also assist by using its long-time contacts and relationships with local and state agencies to navigate the bureaucratic protocols for testing — expertise AAA wouldn’t naturally have, said Iwasaki.

“AAA isn’t really an agency that walks into the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] and starts talking to the director, and those kinds of things, and has the contacts. And so we do,” he added. 

“AAA’s investment is actually helping to bring to fruition a lot of the ideas and the wish list that CCTA had when we founded GoMentum Station,” said Linsey Willis, director of external affairs at CCTA. “So, we’re really excited to see some of this come to light.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.