The first driverless shuttles in commercial service in California have started to transport workers around the Bishop Ranch office park in San Ramon, and are planned to be used on public roads connecting to BART as early as this fall.
These would be the first driverless shuttles carrying passengers on public roads in the US. The same vehicles from Easymile in France have been in service in Rotterdam connecting a business park to a metro station since last year.
The Easymile driverless shuttles travel pre-programmed fixed routes, unlike the ad hoc human-driven “Flex” service from VTA which was piloted and discontinued in the office park areas of North San Jose/Santa Clara.
The use of driverless shuttles on public roads would presumably depend on the California DMV approving new rules to certify driverless vehicles. Proposed new rules are posted for public comment through April, with a timeline that could finalize the rules by the end of the year.
If the public road pilot works well in practice, this service – limited as it is – could be transformative for first/last mile connections and neighborhood circulator routes that are currently costly to run. This type of technology could allow connector and neighborhood service in less dense areas where it’s difficult to cost-justify a bus and driver.
San Mateo County’s shuttle routes cost $100K to $300K per year to operate. The EasyMile shuttles cost $500,000 for two shuttles for a two-year contract, so they already seem price-competitive even in early adoption pilot phase.