A mobility plan currently in the works — as well as newly signed state legislation — could make autonomous vehicles a viable option for the city’s future transportation network, officials say.
(TNS) — St. Augustine visitors could be shuttled around downtown in driverless vehicles within the next several years, St. Augustine Mobility Program Manager Reuben Franklin Jr. said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that will allow self-driving cars to operate on state roads if they meet insurance and safety requirements, according to The Associated Press. The law will take effect July 1.
Some government officials in Northeast Florida have already been planning to implement the technology.
Franklin is working on creating a mobility plan for the city, which will be a vision of how officials want the city's transportation network to operate by 2040. One possibility is to have autonomous vehicles shuttle people to and from parking garages in the next several years, he said.
One goal of the mobility plan is to get visitors to park once on the outskirts of the city and use other modes of transportation to get around town.
With autonomous vehicles, the city wouldn't have to pay a driver. Also, another case for using the technology is safety — autonomous vehicles would eliminate human behavior such as texting while driving, Franklin said.
"They still have a long way to go, but it is exciting and it's going to drastically change the way people move around in all urban environments," Franklin said.
Places around the country and the world are using or preparing to use autonomous vehicles, which can be shuttles that serve a larger number of passengers than a personal vehicle.
According to a BestRide.com article about a 15-passenger Navya shuttle: "It's fully autonomous with no driver, but any human can take over in an emergency and stop the shuttle, even though it doesn't have a steering wheel. There are two emergency stop buttons and an Xbox controller plugged in and mounted just beneath the destination touchscreen. The controller can be used to drive the shuttle in a pinch."
The University of Michigan's campus has used Navya self-driving shuttles.
"In addition to LiDAR, which uses invisible laser beams to build a view of the surrounding environment, and GPS for localization, the two Navya Autonom Shuttles are equipped with on-board cameras and Wi-Fi communications to capture data generated during operation," according to the university.
At this point, St. Johns County government doesn't have plans to use autonomous vehicles, according to county spokeswoman Sarah Butler.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is on board with the concept, though.
The organization has a testing track for autonomous vehicles near the TIAA Bank Field, JTA spokesman David Cawton II said. The organization, in cooperation with other entities, plans to begin running autonomous vehicles on Bay Street in downtown Jacksonville in the next few years. Autonomous vehicles are part of a bigger project to upgrade the downtown transportation network, an effort that should be finished in about 10 years.
"This is new technology. This stuff is changing all the time. And I think Northeast Florida should take pride in the fact that this is on their doorstep," he said.
©2019 The St. Augustine Record, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.