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Gainesville, Fla., Tables Autonomous Shuttle Program

The city had planned to launch at least one of four shuttles this month, but recent high-profile incidents are prompting calls for more testing.

(TNS) — Gainesville residents are going to have to wait a bit longer before riding in one of the city's self-driving shuttles due to much-needed testing.

Gainesville officials in December said at least one of four autonomous shuttles would be in service this month, but those plans have been pushed back to August.

Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman said Tuesday the city anticipates receiving the shuttle at the end of April and will begin testing it on the streets by May.

After three to four months of testing, he said, passengers then could ride the shuttle through the downtown area.

In December, the City Commission approved City Manager Anthony Lyons to execute a contract with Transdev Services for up to $2.7 million, which will be entirely funded by the Florida Department of Transportation. The funds would pay for a three-year pilot program for a self-driving Regional Transit Systems shuttle to transport up to 12 people for free through downtown Gainesville at a speed of up to 25 mph.

Hoffman said a Transdev operator would be in the shuttle for the first few weeks of the launch as a precaution, but that it would be completely autonomous.

In March, there were at least two reported car crashes involving vehicles with autonomous features that killed two people.

In California, a Tesla vehicle crashed into a wall on a highway, killing the person behind the wheel. Tesla advises that its vehicles have features that assist drivers but makes no claim that they are self-driving. In Arizona, a self-driving Uber vehicle went off the road and killed a pedestrian. Uber has since been ordered by Gov. Doug Ducey to suspend testing in the state.

City spokesman Bob Woods on Tuesday said the launch of Gainesville's self-driving shuttle project delayed and that the crashes played a part in the decision. Hoffman, however, later said that it will likely just mean additional testing, locally.

"The vendor wants to make sure they do their due diligence on the vehicles. I'm sure they're looking at both those instances," Woods said. "The city supports them doing their due diligence. We want the vendor to do everything humanly possible to ensure that they're safe."

City officials said safety is a major concern and want to make sure the vehicle is safe for riders, other drivers and pedestrians.

Hoffman said the vehicle is currently in Jacksonville after being shipped from France.

Transdev in January launched its first U.S. driverless shuttle in Babcock Ranch, a newly founded town in Southwest Florida. If Gainesville decides to rollout the RTS service, it would be the second town with a Transdev shuttle in service.

The preliminary route released in December is subject to change during testing, but will travel near Depot Park, through downtown and cross Southwest 13th Street.

"We want to make sure the route we select will be a route that will be good for the project," Woods said.

©2018 The Gainesville Sun, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.