Columbus, Ohio, Halts Driverless Shuttles After Incident

Smart Columbus has temporarily stopped its self-driving shuttle test after one unexpectedly stopped in the middle of a road, causing a minor injury to a passenger. Both shuttles are out of service for examination.

by Mark Ferenchik, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / February 25, 2020
Attendees look at the new self driving shuttle at its kickoff at the Douglas Recreation Center Feb. 5. [Eric Albrecht/Dispatch] TNS

(TNS) — Smart Columbus has put the brakes on its two self-driving shuttles in Linden after one unexpectedly stopped in the middle of a route and a woman slipped from her seat on to the floor.

The shuttle had just left the Douglas Community Recreation Center on Windsor Avenue when it stopped on the street around noon Thursday, Smart Columbus spokeswoman Alyssa Chenault said Monday.

The woman sought medical attention, Chenault said.

Columbus Fire medics were sent to East 12th Avenue, and transported the woman to Ohio State University Hospital East with minor injuries, Battalion Chief Steve Martin said.

Chenault did not provide the name of the woman. She said Smart Columbus notified the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the meantime, Smart Columbus has halted shuttle service.

"We wanted to err on the side of caution," Chenault said. "We took both shuttles out of service until (Denver-based shuttle manufacturer) EasyMile could come into town Monday to look into it further."

In May 2019, the Columbus City Council approved a $1.1 million contract with EasyMile for the automated vehicle shuttle service.

EmpowerBus is the local operator for Smart Columbus. An operator is always on board to monitor the shuttle.

The two, 12-passenger shuttles began running Feb. 5.

The shuttle pilot ends in February 2021, and is the result of Columbus winning the Smart City Challenge in 2016. That brought in a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant and a $10 million grant from Paul G. Allen Philanthropies.

The Transport Workers Union, which represents Central Ohio Transit Authority drivers, has opposed self-driving buses, and asked for an independent, third-party investigation to determine what happened Thursday.

"This is dangerous and risky technology," said John Samuelsen, the president of the union's international.

"It's outrageous that Columbus is treating its transit-starved residents of Linden as guinea pigs, putting them in harm's way instead of providing transit with trained professional operators at the controls," he said.

Editor's note: The headline of this article was adjusted to more accurately reflect the incident. 

©2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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