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Write on METRO

Apr 18
METRO to Test Autonomous Vehicles



Starting this fall, METROTexas Southern University (TSU) and the city of Houston hope to join an elite group: providers of an autonomous university shuttle. TSU will be one of the few U.S. universities to test use of autonomous technology to move students around. University of Michigan began its service in the fall 2017.  


The pilot, which will be available to the approximately 9,000 students, staff and guests, can operate without a driver. A self-driving automated vehicle, called a university circulator, will shuttle around on the campus pathways of Texas Southern University While the vehicle is autonomous, there will always be an operator on-board and the self-driving shuttle will operate for a pedestrian environment, slowly – averaging from eight to 12 miles per hour.  


Safety will definitely be a priority in this pilot, which will include campus education on the vehicle and the safe use of it,  said METRO’s Chief Innovation Officer Kimberly Williams.  "We’re looking forward to learning what people think and how they will use the shuttle. We hear a lot about the potential of this technology. This gives us a chance to see, look, feel and experience.  We’re using all the lessons learned to inform this project.”  


Eventually, METRO will be studying how an autonomous vehicle can make the first and last-mile connection seamless, bringing passengers from the TSU campus to the Purple Line at Scott Street, and eventually, connecting to Eastwood Transit Center 

“A lot of people feel it’s premature – that autonomous vehicles are too far off in the future,” said Williams.” I think this is where this project is critical. The Legislature approved operation of autonomous vehicles on Texas roads in the last legislative session.  This means we may see more of this technology very soonand we need to understand and be ready for it.   

tsu_720px.jpgSo how do self-driving vehicles drive?  A series of sensors and cameras read the operating environment. Some are 350-degree views to “see” obstacles that are both stationary and moving in that environment. In most closed-looped environments, GIS mapping is downloaded to the vehicle so the autonomous vehicle has memory of the corridor and can remember where it is and can operate accordingly, explained Williams.  

Already car manufacturers - including Nissan, Cadillac, and Audi – have announced plans to roll out autonomous passenger cars this year and next.  

Are autonomous buses in our near future? “It’s logical that it would continue to advance to heavier vehicles, like buses,” said Williams. “Even if we are not operating autonomous vehicles, it’s important to understand how this works because our buses may soon operate in a mixed environment,” said Williams. 


 “There has also been discussion that the Federal Transit Agency may issue a call for demonstration projects in the next 12 to 24 months related to AV technology," continued Williams. 

For the pilot, METRO is looking for a partner who will be a turnkey provider to provide the vehicle and mapping.  METRO is part of the Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership, a consortium of cities and regions across the state that is partnering with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Transportation Research and Southwest Research Institute.  

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated 10 automated proving ground pilot sites to encourage testing and information-sharing. The Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership was selected as one of the 10.  

Eventually, autonomous vehicles would be tested at the Texas Medical Center, the Port of Houston and METRO’s HOV lanes 

How do you feel about riding in an autonomous vehicle? Is this something you’d use?



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Comment Title

Autonomous vehicle is a very worthy endeavor that can lower operating costs greatly. The problem lies in the implementation of the technology. I see that their will be an operator on board from the start. My question is will the operator be replaced with a service attendant in the future. Will the vehicles truly become automated; thus, there would be no role for a Metro employee to be present at any time? Who will decide when to close the doors or when to move forward( patrons might take their time to be seated). Who will be responsible for falls? And the ever more important question; who will collect fares? Is this going to be based on an honor system like the Rail? These are the more important questions in my opinion rather than the technical questions about automated vehicles.
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  • System Account
 on 4/19/2018 1:10 AM

Comment Title

Hi Rick and thanks for your comments.  You raise great questions and we plan to review many of the points you raised.  Meaning we don't have answers yet we hope through this pilot we will. The major benefit of partnering with Texas Southern University is partnering with their Center for Transportation Research Center.  We hope to provide valuable data and reports to our customers and interested stakeholders. Please continue to send your questions and stay tuned ....
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  • System Account
 on 4/19/2018 11:11 AM

Comment Title

Although I have many issues with Metro's level of service, I also have to admit that I feel as though I won the lottery in that I am 1 block away from the Lindale Park rail station. I am a frequent user, I just wish you would hurry up and ad all that additional light rail you keep talking about! I think AV's would be the perfect compliment for the light rail. Myself, I use my bike to get to the rail station and am perfectly happy with that solution, but I think that for many people the distance between their homes and the nearest rail station is a major obstacle, especially when shopping. Having AV's available via some app that were dedicated as a house-rail station connector would, I think, be a perfection first use application of AV's. Since they would be restricted to the immediate area around a rail station they could be slow moving in a much simpler environment(residential neighborhoods as opposed to high speed freeways), presumably presenting much less of a challenge to the vehicle's AI. I guess what I'm saying is that I think that this would be a simple, less challenging first step for AV;s that could really have a big impact in getting people who never really consider mass transit as being practical or convenient. I'm certain that many more people would use the light rail if they could park right there at the station, but for many if not most stations, parking on that scale is probably not practical nor desirable for the neighborhood. Also, as population density continues to increase, it makes less and less sense to dedicate square footage to parking. I think that small, electric, slow moving AV's circulating through neighborhoods, acting as feeders to the light rail system would be a great first use of AV's. In my, ahem, humble opinion :).

P.S. I LOVE the fact that the rails go until 2-3 a.m. on the weekends! I also think it's ridiculous that they only run til 10-11 during the week.  I mean, come on, people in the soon to be third largest city in the U.S. have to be home well before midnight! Ridiculous! No, embarrassing actually! Again, IMHO ...
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  • System Account
 on 5/16/2018 2:25 AM

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