Tonight: Mountain View City Council considers advancing autonomous North Bayshore transit connections

Tonight, the Mountain View City Council is reviewing a proposal for more detailed evaluation of transit routes that would connect the Mountain View Transit Center, and possibly VTA light rail, to North Bayshore and Nasa/Moffett Field.   

Following earlier direction from City Council, the connector would use autonomous vehicles travelling on pre-defined routes. The study would look at routes, stations, and potential ridership of various options, timeline and funding, and would be complete by late 2020.

When will the technology be ready?

A key question for the study will be technology readiness.  The Bay Area’s first autonomous shuttle pilot program, running in the Bishop Ranch office park in Contra Costa County, has been successful in ferrying workers around the office park, but still has not quite reached the major milestone of being able to cross an arterial signalized intersection that it needs to serve major first/last mile use cases.

A key question for the study will be technology readiness.  The Bay Area’s first autonomous shuttle pilot program, running in the Bishop Ranch office park in Contra Costa County, has been successful in ferrying workers around the office park, but still has not quite reached the major milestone of being able to cross an arterial signalized intersection.

According to the team that has been working on the pilot, the Contra Costa County programs running the Bishop Ranch shuttle are on the lookout for new vehicles beyond the first-generation Easymile systems that were used in the initial pilot, in order to take the next major steps in the initiative.

There are many such autonomous shuttle pilot programs in progress around the globe.  System that travel fixed routes in known locations, especially with separate right of way require less challenging technology than fully autonomous vehicles that can go anywhere  – the key question is when the systems will be ready for the needs that Mountain View expects.

Public and private funding

The study is proposed to be funded with a public private partnership, using $250,000 from Google and $100,000 from the Mountain View Transportation Management Association, out of an $850,000 cost.  Other funding might be available from sources including city funds, VTA’s Measure B’s Innovative Transit funding, and Federal/State funding available through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Meanwhile, the reversible bus lane moves forward

Meanwhile, the City of Mountain View is working on improving its first-last mile North Bayshore connection using mature technology. The city is getting started with construction of a reversible bus lane on Shoreline that will speed up long-distance and last-mile shuttles. That project is expected to take two years to construct.

So by 2022, Mountain View will have more frequent Caltrain service, connected to North Bayshore with streamlined traditional last-mile connections, providing improved service sooner while the next generation technology is in the works.