Self-Driving Shuttles to Roam the Streets of Linden, Ohio

Three autonomous shuttles will travel a 2.8-mile route through the city as part of a year-long pilot beginning in late January. Officials are billing the launch as the first residential test of the technology.

by Mark Ferenchik, The Columbus Dispatch / January 8, 2020
Shutterstock/Supawit Srethbhakdi

(TNS) — Self-driving shuttles are scheduled to start traveling in Linden in late January.

The free service will be the first residential test in the country for self-driving shuttles, said Mandy Bishop, Smart Columbus' program manager.

The shuttles will run along a 2.8-mile route and connect St. Stephen's Community House, the Douglas Recreation Center, the Rosewind Resident Council and the Linden Transit Center. The pilot program will run for 12 months.

Three, 12-passenger, disabled-accessible electric shuttles will travel the route between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Service will be suspended between 8 and 9:30 a.m., and again from 3 to 4:30 p.m. because of students walking to school, said Bishop, who called it an extra layer of safety.

The shuttles can travel up to 25 mph, but will average 12-18 mph, she said.

The shuttles will take about 20 minutes to complete a circuit, and they will be timed so riders can connect with Central Ohio Transit Authority buses, including the CMAX line along Cleveland Avenue.

Operators will be on board to monitor the vehicles.

Marilyn Mehaffie, St. Stephen's CEO, said the new service will give those who use the community house more access since there is no COTA bus stop there now. St. Stephen's houses a food pantry and a PrimaryOne health center, and it provides job training and other social services.

Mehaffie said more of St. Stephen's clients are becoming aware that the service will begin.

Wanda Curry-Shepard, of the Greater Linden Business Network, said that while she likes the pilot, the neighborhood still needs more connections to job centers such as Easton and the Stelzer Road area.

Curry-Shepard, the president and CEO of Unique Service Logistics, said she would like to move her business back to Linden from the South Side.

Partners for the pilot include DriveOhio, COTA, Ohio State University, St. Stephen's, the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority.

The first pilot was a seven-rider shuttle that traveled a 1.4-mile circuit along the Scioto Mile, connecting Bicentennial Park, COSI, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, and the Smart Columbus Experience Center. That service attracted 16,062 riders between Dec. 10, 2018, and Sept. 27, 2019.

The shuttles didn't run during any snow emergencies because the snow obscured the visibility of the sensor on the shuttles, Bishop said. That will likely be the plan for the Linden shuttles as well, she said.

The Linden shuttle was to start in November 2019, but the National Transport and Safety Authority needed to approve the low-speed vehicles for the Linden route, Bishop said.

The Linden shuttle pilot will be the city's last. The programs were 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.

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

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