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Transit operators throughout the world are rolling out autonomous shuttle services, and in the process are developing solutions that can serve as playbooks for other agencies. Use cases for autonomous shuttles include extending service areas and offering multi-modal “last-mile” services from transit hubs to homes and offices.

Transport Pubics Fribourgeois (TPF), the public transport operator for the region of Fribourg in Switzerland, launched an autonomous shuttle service connecting the city’s public transit system with the Marly Innovation Center, a near 100-acre campus for technology companies that is about two miles from the nearest public transit station.

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The primary objective is “to transport commuters to their place of employment,” TPF said when introducing the service. “Connecting residents in the area to the urban public transport network is another objective. Providing service in the final kilometer responds to these challenges.”

TPF selected autonomous shuttles for the service because it was a more cost-effective way to connect the somewhat remote area to public transit. The Innovation Center hopes the service will attract new businesses by making it easier for employees to get to work.

Meanwhile at the San Francisco Bay Area’s Bishop Ranch business park, a sprawling 585-acre campus that is home to 600 businesses and 30,000 employees in San Ramon, last-mile service from BART stations to the campus has been a persistent bottleneck. Heavy traffic can make it difficult for employers to recruit new workers and for the park to lure more businesses to lease buildings.

“Today, our BART shuttles come into Bishop Ranch, and they have to spend about 15 minutes getting through the ranch,” said Alex Mehran, CEO of Sunset Development, which oversees the property, told KGO 7 News. “One of the problems that kept coming up was a first and last mile solution,” said Randall Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Cost Transportation Authority (CCTA).

Bishop Ranch has partnered with the CCTA and autonomous testing facility GoMentum Station to pilot and get the permissions needed to offer an on-demand autonomous shuttle project as a last-mile service to the park. In March, a shuttle took its first trip on public roads, permits in hand.

For Mehran, the autonomous vehicles are critical to the success of the business park in the growing region. “If I have to get 10 of them I’ll get 10 of them, if I have to get 20 of them, I’ll get 20 of them,” he said.

Last-mile services with autonomous vehicles have the advantage of being relatively easy to deploy. They require minimal infrastructure and reduce costs in important ways. San Ramon officials point out that parking structures cost about $75,000 per space. By reducing the amount of parking space needed, the vehicles could easily pay for themselves.

Autonomous last-mile services have the potential on enable public transit operators to make getting to and from their destinations faster and more convenient. In the ever more competitive world of mobility, this can be an important advantage. Fribourg and Bishop Ranch are proving grounds for these services, providing a faster, more efficient, and cost-effective way to reach new service areas and getting public transit closer to a door-to-door experience.


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