Autonomous shuttles and ridesharing included in California’s Tri-Valley transit overhaul

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As part of a long-term aim of reducing traffic congestion by encouraging the use of public transport, a transit agency in the Tri-Valley region of the San Francisco Bay Area of California, has started the overhaul of its services that will eventually lead to the use of autonomous shuttles to solve the ‘first-mile/last-mile’ dilemma.

The Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority (LAVTA), which operates the Wheels public transit system, has approved major changes to the provision of more frequent buses and new routes in the cities of Livermore, Dublin, and Pleasanton. The agency also introduced two innovations: they are partnering with transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, to reach commuters in neighborhoods that big buses cannot serve; and exploring driverless shuttles to solve first and last mile issues to connect people to stations.

To create an easier-to-use, more productive transit system, LAVTA embarked on a yearlong planning effort with the Tri-Valley communities, called ‘Wheels Forward’, which was led by NelsonNygaard, an international transportation planning firm. By focusing on making it easier and more convenient for riders, the team restructured the Wheels bus service to provide more direct routes to key destinations with buses arriving more often. A major improvement is the addition of the agency’s second route with 15-minute all-day bus frequency that will receive traffic signal priority at intersections for quicker service.

To serve lower-density suburban neighborhoods, LAVTA will test ridesharing services. Customers will receive a discounted rate when they take advantage of Uber, Lyft or taxi companies participating with the transit agency within the project areas. The LAVTA Board has also approved and directed staff to seek partners and funding for a near-future demonstration project in the City of Dublin using electric driverless shuttles, which would continue to advance the agency’s focus on improving first and last-mile solutions to access public transit. Other Wheels improvements approved for fiscal year 2017 include the addition of wi-fi to Rapid and express buses, the implementation of individualized marketing in target areas of the transit system, the development of a new phone app and website to include integration with TNCs, and a rebranding of Wheels services.

“These changes feature a dramatic new way of thinking about mass transit,” said Wheels Board chairman, Don Biddle. “With these improvements, an additional 6,000 households and 5,000 employees will be within an easy five-minute walk of high-quality, frequent bus services, while areas that cannot support big buses will be served with innovative partnerships and ultimately driverless shuttles. These changes will be a significant catalyst for residents to explore their transportation options.”

Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty commented, “Electric, driverless shuttles are being tested throughout the world as viable short-trip solutions to connect people to mass transit. With high density residential and business centers near the two BART stations in Dublin, the envisioned demonstration project will cover areas where conventional means of transportation simply aren’t viable, especially given the limited parking.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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