From a driverless shuttle pilot project that they hope to launch later this year, to a whole network of autonomous vans that is still years away, Bellevue has big hopes for autonomous vehicles.
Just this month, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a driverless van began shuttling students and staff the 1-mile round trip between a research complex and a distant parking lot and bus stop.
In Las Vegas, an autonomous van launched last year, taking curious passengers on a three-block loop between a downtown retail park and Las Vegas Boulevard.
In San Ramon, California, two driverless shuttles began circulating in March through a nearly 600-acre cluster of office parks.
Autonomous shuttle pilot projects are sprouting in myriad locations across the country, gauging people’s reactions and trying to increase their comfort with driverless transit.
Bellevue wants in, too.
The city has hired a manager of transportation technology partnerships who’s working on the early stages of what officials hope will eventually be a vanpool service of autonomous vehicles, scheduled and summoned by smartphone app.
The goal is to coordinate with the region’s big employers to offer a transit option that can serve suburban areas better than full-size buses or trains. Transportation planners imagine a fleet of self-driving vans that, in the future, could entice commuters to ditch the cars that clog Eastside highways each workday.
“As more and more businesses come here and decide they want to locate in Bellevue and Kirkland, the main issue they face is how to attract employees due to the increasing congestion,” said Steve Marshall, Bellevue’s manager of transportation technology partnerships.
“It’s a convergence of the desire to help employees and reduce congestion as well as advancing technology,” Marshall said.
The city wants major employers to chip in: A fully realized program could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build out.
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