Autonomous shuttle service launches in Orlando
In a race where some cities are placing their image boosting hopes in the hands of emerging technologies, Orlando has become an early leader with the launch of what may be Florida's first autonomous shuttle bus service to be operated as a real first and last mile transit alternative.
Move Nona Photo Tour
The Lake Nona Town Center autonomous shuttle transit stop. Currently running on streets characterized with low traffic counts, researchers continue to work to make the technology available for more dense settings in the future.
A look inside a Move Nona autonomous transit vehicle in operation.
Unlike higher capacity mass transit vehicles such as Jacksonville’s JTA Skyway or Charlotte’s LYNX Light Rail Transit, a ride on Navya’s shuttle requires all passengers to wear seat belts due to abrupt stops that could possibly occur with the vehicle when operating within mixed traffic conditions. This vehicle is designed to carry 10 seated passengers at capacity.
A potential mobility solution to fill the first-mile, last-mile gaps in public transportation, while shuttles may be autonomous, current laws require human attendants.
On this particular day, a Lamborghini was illegally parked at the shuttle’s transit station at the Laureate Park Village Center.
Tavistock Lakes Boulevard, a roadway with an average annual daily traffic count of 9,900, serves as the primary route for the one mile long shuttle bus service. The use of a road with a low traffic count and a route that avoids complications associated with traffic signalization helps minimize complexity and the risk of operating in real life conditions.
Launched in September 2019, the shuttle travels at a maximum speed of 11 miles per hour. Despite minimal traffic along the route, a vehicle operating at 1/2 the maximum posted speed limit leads to the stacking of human controlled vehicles, causing safety concerns when frustrated drivers attempt to abruptly pass slow moving shuttles in operation. As a response, Beep has adjusted the Move Nona shuttle bus service to allow attendants to manually pull the vehicle over on the side of the road to allow lines of drivers to freely pass.
During our experience, one frustrated driver passed the shuttle at an intersection, running a stop sign as a part of their illegal traffic movement. Due to the complexity and risk of operating autonomous shuttles within mixed traffic conditions, in a more urbanized setting, service reliability and safety would be significantly enhanced with the addition of dedicated lanes from a mass transit perspective.
When the technology is ready, future plans at Lake Nona will involve extending the autonomous shuttle route through an existing traffic signal at Tavistock Lakes Boulevard and Lake Nona Boulevard into the heart of Lake Nona Town Center.
Article and photographs by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org