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Feds Help Shreveport, La., and Las Vegas Modernize Transit

Combined, the cities received nearly $1.5 million in grants through a U.S. Department of Transportation program. They will use it to maintain and plan the expansion of zero-emissions vehicles, and to enhance pedestrian safety.

A Louisiana transit system will use a federal transportation innovation grant to train staff in servicing its growing fleet of electric buses, and to plan the expansion of its zero-emission operations.

SporTran, the public transit system serving the Shreveport-Bossier City metro region in northwest Louisiana, has been awarded $995,400 from the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grants program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The program awarded more than $50 million in funding for 34 technology demonstration projects across the country, the DOT announced March 14. Eleven of the awarded projects involve the deployment of sensors, seven are related to connected and autonomous vehicles, and eight involve “transit innovation.”

The training in Shreveport will be developed to serve not only e-buses, but small, electric autonomous shuttles.

“We have been, for several years now, interested in deploying autonomous technology,” said SporTran CEO Dinero Washington, explaining its plan to introduce shuttles in the city’s downtown and riverboat casino entertainment districts.

“The autonomous vehicles are going to serve our downtown corridors, and also our casino district,” Washington said in an interview last month. “And so we’re going to be looking at upgrades that’s needed within those districts, looking at the routes, the lighting equipment, striping on the streets, whatever we might need to really make this [AV] work and function in those areas.”

Today, buses traveling downtown routes serve stops about every 20 minutes. Washington hopes to get these times down to 12 to 13 minutes, through the use of AVs and other tech improvements to make the routes more efficient. The grant will help fund the analysis of the deployment of AVs, along with the development of workforce training in partnership with a local community college.

“We’ll study the area and the workforce development that is needed in order to make sure that we are safe and efficient when we roll out that new technology in Shreveport,” Washington said.

The manufacturer has done much of the servicing of SporTran’s nine electric buses, since they are still relatively new, but over time, the agency will need to take on much of this work.

“We put together a whole course study that we will put each one of our technicians through,” Washington said. “We’re really trying to be more proactive, than reactive, with this new technology.” The training will focus heavily on working with the charging infrastructure. SporTran has been awarded a separate grant, to construct an EV bus depot and maintenance facility.

The Las Vegas Transportation Department was also awarded $1.4 million from the SMART program, which it will use to deploy sensors at 17 locations in downtown — part of a pedestrian detection system to make the Fremont Street Experience safer.

“In simple terms, the way the technology works is that cameras will be installed that can ‘talk’ to the traffic signals to create safer outcomes when pedestrians are crossing the street,” Jace Radke, public and media relations supervisor for Las Vegas, said in an email. The pilot program works in tandem with the city’s Vision Zero Program, which sets goals of increasing roadway safety throughout the community.

“The city of Las Vegas is thankful for these federal grant funds so that this new technology can be tested and potentially lead to our roadways being safer for everyone,” Joey Paskey, Las Vegas public works director, said in a statement.
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.