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Columbus, Ohio, Prepares to Launch Second AV Shuttle Service

The driverless shuttles, operating with autonomous vehicle technology, will serve as a free, first-mile/last-mile solution connecting residents to a community center, recreation facility and a transit center.

Self-driving shuttles are headed into a residential neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, as the city sets out on its second autonomous bus project.

The Linden neighborhood in northeastern Columbus will be the site of a 2.7-mile route for a small, electric autonomous shuttle, capable of carrying about a dozen passengers. The new route, set to be operational in November, will be in addition to an existing AV shuttle route operating in downtown, known as the Smart Circuit. More than 3,300 riders have boarded the three downtown shuttles since they began operating, say city officials.

“While Smart Circuit continues to run downtown, the new Linden route will instead operate in a neighborhood environment, serving as a first-mile/last-mile solution connecting residents to community resources,” said Mandy Bishop, program manager for Smart Columbus. Some of those connections include a community center, recreation facility and the Linden Transit Center.

The project is one of several smart city efforts in Columbus centered around transportation. The initiatives are funded by a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge grant awarded in 2016 to create a smart transportation system.

The Linden route will be served by at least two shuttles, say city officials. However, specifics like the manufacturer and type of vehicle will be released later. RFPs for the project are due by Feb. 14. The shuttles will be free to ride and will be staffed by an attendant.

The Linden neighborhood project is hardly alone when it comes to self-driving shuttles for public transit. Cities across the country are edging slowly into the world of autonomous vehicles by piloting modest shuttle services to help to meet first-mile/last-mile transit needs while devising real-world test cases for connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.

“We strongly believe in use-case-driven deployments that involved getting the public familiar with the technology,” said Bishop. “However, we believe that we are at a critical point where we can move beyond demonstration of the technology and move to implementation that solves problems and fills gaps within a community.”

Moving forward, strong use cases that link people to community resources and opportunities will be the best use of resources that leverage this type of technology, according to Bishop. “The technology can then be used to assist all citizens within a community to help them live their best lives,” she said.

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.