AECOM, an infrastructure consulting firm, is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and White Bear Lake on the launch of an automated shuttle pilot within the city.
The shuttle, which has been named “Bear Tracks”, will run for one year on a 1.5-mile route and be free to use, connecting area residents to several community facilities and businesses.
The project will incorporate key elements of MnDOT’s Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) Strategic Plan, including enhanced mobility for persons with disabilities, better travel options for elderly communities, and more public awareness of automated vehicle technologies.
Daryl Taavola, vice president with AECOM’s US West transportation business, says: “We’re incredibly proud to partner with MnDOT and White Bear Lake to launch this groundbreaking project, which not only advances the operation of emerging automation technologies in variable weather conditions but uniquely integrates transit accessibility and equity as a main focus.
“As automated vehicles (AV) play a larger role in supporting improved mobility, we’re honored to partner with our clients to help them navigate this evolution and achieve their goals.
“This pilot will serve as a tangible example that helps the public understand and interact with the benefits of these vehicles while providing the community with a free, safe, and sustainable transportation option.”
AECOM will serve as Bear Tracks’ prime contractor and AV technology expert, providing program management, planning services, AV technology design, procurement support, program evaluation, and technical services.
A unique aspect of the project is an academic partnership to offer students firsthand experience with CAVs and aid in workforce development. Lessons learned during the pilot will assist MnDOT in advancing and replicating AV paratransit systems throughout the state.
The concept will also leverage concurrent efforts underway by the AECOM-led Automated Bus Consortium involving a larger coordinated national effort to procure and test full-size, full-speed AV buses.
MnDOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger, says: “We at MnDOT value opportunities to collaborate with local communities and companies such as AECOM to strengthen partnerships.
“The Bear Tracks autonomous shuttle provides a safe transportation option for White Bear Lake community members, particularly some of our more vulnerable residents. The demonstration project also provides invaluable information that can move Minnesota forward in its goal of safe, equitable transportation for all in our state.”
The Bear Tracks pilot will employ a Navya Autonom Shuttle, a highly automated, 11 passenger, low-speed shuttle that is 100-percent electric and includes a mobility ramp and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance features.
The shuttle will have a safety driver, who will act as an onboard attendant, and includes a computer, GPS technology, and multiple sensors to operate within the predetermined route.
Newtrax will serve as the shuttle operations manager, leveraging its extensive experience providing daily transportation services for adults with disabilities in the area.
Additional participating key partners include Ramsey County, University of Minnesota, White Bear Lake Area Schools, Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence, White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce, and the local YMCA.
Lindy Crawford, White Bear Lake City manager, says: “White Bear Lake is proud to partner with MnDOT, AECOM, Newtrax and the many other project partners to ensure that community needs in cities like White Bear Lake are being considered as automated vehicle technology is developed and incorporated into long term transportation planning.
“In addition to being the host community for the project, we look forward to the opportunity to expose local students to jobs of the future and to work with the project partners as the lead partner for public engagement.
“We look forward to members of our community, and the Twin Cities region as a whole, having firsthand experience with this technology in White Bear Lake.”