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Dallas-Fort Worth Region Plots Practical Course for Autonomous Vehicles

With more pressure to put autonomous vehicles onto public roadways, governments at all levels have grappled with where to start. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the conversation is starting with a one-man department within the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

In his self-described “department of one,” Thomas Bamonte is steering the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region toward a place that positions north Texas to be a leader in autonomous vehicle technology and its corresponding public policy.
Bamonte is the senior program manager for the automated vehicles department within the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCG), which helps to guide funding and public policy along a range of transportation initiatives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area —  a spread of 16 counties with some 7 million residents.
“All of my colleagues — in their subject-matter areas — were learning more, seeing more discussions about those [autonomous vehicle] technologies and business practices. But the COG [Council of Governments] wanted someone who could live and breathe this stuff,” said Bamonte in a recent interview. His department was formed about 18 months ago.
“We saw the developments. Many of the folks here saw the developments, and we wanted to be an MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) that kind of, I would say, get in front of the [autonomous vehicle] issue,” said Bamonte. “And certainly have a rigorous focus on what transportation automation may mean to how we plan, program, deliver, operate and maintain our transportation system.”
The NCTCG has established an “automated vehicle program,” approved by the Regional Transportation Council, a subset of the NCTCG, earlier this year. It includes funding for two low-speed automated vehicle pilot programs, funding to support the use of Interstate 30 between Dallas and Fort Worth as a test corridor for transportation technology.
“We have two grant programs to encourage local cities to — in one program — make their traffic signal data accessible to the developer community to support connected vehicle applications,” Bamonte said.

Another grant program encourages cities to share their transportation data with Waze and other travel navigation services, “and to make use of the data streams that they receive in return,” he added. 
“We believe that by building the data infrastructure for connected vehicles is probably the most cost-effective investment we can do at this point,” said Bamonte. 
The council of governments is also, reserving some money to research or reinvent “people mover systems using automated vehicles,” said Bamonte. He wants to spur discussions about the future of transportation which may expand beyond the single personal vehicle to conveyance options that take the form of small electric buses.
“I think there is an opening for the emergence of vehicles in that spectrum between an electric bike and the kind of one-size-fits-all vehicles that we all use today,” he offered. “And I want to make sure, both at the federal and the state levels, that there’s sufficient space for the emergence of these vehicles.”
An example would be the sorts of low-speed automated shuttles carrying about a dozen passengers, already being tested — or at least displayed— in a number of cities.
“They get one or two people to work. They have much less of physical and environmental footprint,” said Bamonte. “I think there’s real potential for movement there. It’s not strictly automation. But it’s certainly consistent with, kind of reinventing, or rethinking, the way that we’re doing surface transportation.”
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 Sacramento.