The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) is conducting a study that involves its new low-speed electric shuttle. This research has come to light to address the first and last mile problem in terms of public transportation.
Public transportation users such as the elderly and the disabled face an everyday problem of getting from the bus stop to their front door. To bridge the gap between these destinations, VTTI has partnered with North Carolina A&T State University.
“We started seeing technology like this around the world working in a few cases, and we recognized the same issues on our site here,” said Andy Alden, a senior research associate who leads a research group called Eco-Transportation and Alternative Technologies Group. “We have students, staff and workers that come to VTTI using mass transit who can only get as close as half a mile away. After being dropped off at a Blacksburg Transit stop, they have to walk along a two-way road with cars driving by with no sidewalks. This prompted the idea that an autonomous shuttle would be a beneficial application in getting people back and forth to that bus stop.”
According to VT News, this automated shuttle system with “automated scheduling and routing processes” will be tested by local senior and paratransit users. They will complete surveys, participate in studies and experience the shuttle in their own community.
To ensure safety, there will be an operator or attendant present in the vehicle while the study is being conducted. The shuttle will operate on a fixed route between a Blacksburg Transit stop near VTTI and the entrance of the main VTTI building.
“Getting the vehicle to operate on our site was a complex operation,” Alden said. “There was a lot of site preparation that went into this in terms of preparing roads and signage. We also spent quite a bit of time training people who would be monitoring operations of this vehicle even though it’s autonomous. As for the volunteers who will be using our system, we will be looking at their preconceived attitudes before they are exposed to this experience and their reactions after using the shuttle system.”