TTC, Metrolinx to test autonomous shuttles in 2020

Jul 4, 2018 | Biz/Tech

Toronto has plans in place to test autonomous vehicles in 2020. Driverless shuttles have already been proposed and tested in several countries, including in the United States, such as at the University of Michigan, seen in the image above. (UMICH)

Ornella Cariello

Driverless vehicles are expected to be scurrying across Toronto in 2020 transporting passengers to and from Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) stations.

The low-speed, autonomous vehicles that can carry about a dozen people are the result of a $1.1 million pilot project to test driverless shuttles in the city. 

Toronto, the TTC and Metrolinx are partnering on the project, which has being partially funded by a Transport Canada grant of up to $365,000 for research and piloting.

The shuttles are planned to be launched in 2020, according to a report that will go to the city’s public works committee next week.

The project, named “Minding the Gap,” suggests driverless shuttles are an efficient way to transport people in under-serviced area between transit lines.

“The shuttle is intended to test the technology’s ability to meet an existing unmet need in public transit, such as filling the lower-demand ‘last mile’ gap. While the location of the pilot has not yet been selected, the shuttle will not be tested on an existing transit route,” the report states. “The exact criteria for selecting a location will be determined following the completion of the request for information (RFI) and more fulsome understanding of the capacity, range limitations, and other specifications of the available commercial technology.”

The project would also supply shuttles based on demand, called demand-responsive transit, said Suniya Kukaswadia, media relations at Metrolinx.

She said they are working closely with the University of Toronto and Ryerson University to study the program and many of details of how it will operate are being worked out.

“Metrolinx is excited to help test the technology’s ability to fill an unmet transit need, which is getting people to and from transit stations and stops to make it easier for them to use transit in the first place,” Kukaswadia said.

Brad Ross, the executive director of TTC, said safety is the biggest concern and the partners are working hard to make sure those risks are identified and preventive measures are taken.

“There are more and more autonomous vehicles on the road and safety is a key consideration,” he said. “There are safety issues today with drivers in cars, a lot of collisions happen all the time and it doesn’t mean we don’t drive our cars. We accept the risk.”

Kukaswadia said successful public transit systems need to offer safe and accessible connections to transit stops and stations for both pedestrians and cyclists, and it is central to everything Metrolinx does.

Closing the gap between a person’s home and the nearest transit stop can also be addressed by emerging technologies including ride sharing, demand-responsive transit and, possibly depending on the results of our pilot, autonomous vehicles,” she said.

“Essentially all parts of the GTA’s transit system can benefit from improved connections to transit stations and stops,” Kukaswadia said.

Metrolinx and TTC confirmed that during the pilot autonomous vehicles will operate with a trained staff person at all times who can take control if needed.

Similar driverless shuttles have already been tested in several countries, including the U.S.

According to the report, Toronto plans to determine locations, the number of vehicles required, the travel demand and other details by Aug. 31, 2019.

The shuttle service launch is planned for Sept. 1, 2020. The testing period can last between six and 12 months.