For the first time in Canada, a self-driving shuttle has been integrated into regular traffic.
An Electric Autonomous (ELA) vehicle pilot project has now taken over a kilometre-long stretch of 50 Street, the main road in Beaumont, Alta.
In partnership with Pacific Western Transportation, the City of Beaumont is using the project to showcase the latest in self-driving technology. Although an operator is still required to monitor the shuttle, it can manoeuvre alongside the busy road on its own.
ELA currently reaches a top speed of 15 kilometres per hour and hits one set of traffic lights along its route. However, over the next six months, its route will eventually expand to go through three intersections and make a right-hand turn.
“We’re providing a separate lane so while ELA is in a mixed-use scenario, the lane that ELA is operating in is segregated again from the general travelling public,” Beaumont’s manager of engineering, Tyler Tymchyshyn, said. “During the period for the six months… the goal would be that this is an ELA-only lane so no other traffic would be allowed to operate within the lane.”
Through the use of sensors, the vehicle is able to interact with its environment and safely stop for pedestrians, cars and animals.
While the new addition to the city is stirring up excitement, some people are still hesitant about the technology.
“I don’t think it’s going to have much benefit for the community,” Beaumont resident Martin Kloepfer said. “I just don’t know how many residents are really going to use the shuttle to go back and forth three blocks.”
Although ELA could be a convenient mode of transportation for the people of Beaumont, the project was not a transit initiative. The $200,000 price tag was paid for by the city as part of its economic development strategy.
“Part of our economic development strategy is to look at these advances in technologies, but we want to put Beaumont on the map as a municipality that’s willing to take risks and that’s willing to look at things that are off the beaten track,” Beaumont city manager Mike Schwirtz said.
“We want to attract Canadian attention, we want to attract global attention and we saw this first-ever testing of this type of vehicle in North America as being a way to do that.”
The City of Beaumont spent three months planning how to introduce the autonomous vehicle onto the road, deliberating signage, emergency services and traffic light timing changes.
Officials say they want to attract more industrial and commercial investment to the area and hope this project shows they are open to welcoming new technologies in the region.
“I don’t think municipalities are seen as being on the cutting edge of new technologies because we’re seen as having too many rules, seen as moving too slowly. We hope to break that mould; that’s not the case,” Schwirtz added.
“Beaumont is open for business, and we’re willing to look at any and all.”
The shuttle will run Thursdays through Mondays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. as well as 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.