Beaumont is the first city in Canada to integrate a driverless shuttle into mixed traffic and pedestrians.
The electronic autonomous shuttle, ELA, runs north-south for one kilometre along 50 Street in Beaumont next to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Beaumont contributed $200,000 to the six-month pilot project, in partnership with Pacific Western Transportation (PWT).
“The future is coming and it’s here in Beaumont,” said Mayor John Stewart outside Beaumont City Hall on Thursday.
ELA has a maximum speed of 40 km/h and uses three-dimensional mapping technology to collect data and navigate its surroundings. Unlike the cars it drives alongside, ELA doesn’t have a steering wheel or a brake pedal.
Other pilots in closed pathways have been conducted in Calgary and Edmonton. A major goal of the pilot is to understand how people interact with autonomous technology like ELA.
“How do you interact with something when you don’t know how it works?” said Dan Finley, vice-president of business development at PWT.
Kristen Jervis-Cacka and her daughters, Viola, 8, and Alexa, 4, were among the first to ride the shuttle down a portion of the route. ELA is fully accessible and a PWT representative was on board at all times to ensure the rides ran smoothly.
“I can see its future use if it went all the way through town, but right now it’s fun. It goes faster than I thought it was actually going to go,” said Kristen, whose daughters enjoyed pushing the “doors-closed” button to initiate the ride.
Eleanor Mohammed, general manager of integrated growth and infrastructure at the City of Beaumont, hopes that people of all walks of life will be able to use the shuttle.
“The point of the pilot is making sure we’re looking at how the autonomous technology interacts with the community, but also how you take these autonomous vehicles and incorporate them into mixed traffic,” said Mohammed.
There is currently no mention of autonomous vehicles in the Alberta Traffic Safety Act, a gap Mohammed hopes the pilot will help address as it gathers new information.
“We need to learn how this technology interacts on our streets and how we can run it safely,” said Mohammed. According to Finley, ELA is safer than human-driven cars because “it doesn’t know how to take a risk.”
The free pilot shuttle runs in Beaumont until the end of October.