Dive Brief: Autonomous shuttles could soon be on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, after the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) DriveOhio initiative, in partnership with Smart Columbus, the city government and Ohio State University, announced they were issuing a request for proposals (RFPs) to identify a technology partner on the project.The successful technology partner would operate the autonomous shuttles around the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus. Bids are due August 13.“Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to expand transportation options and help provide equitable and convenient access to educational destinations, jobs and services in a safe and sustainable way,” Michael Stevens, Columbus’ chief innovation officer, said in a statement. “As the Smart City Challenge winner, Columbus has been recognized for our openness to innovation and we're proud to be the first in Ohio to deploy this technology.”
This RFP is the latest phase of the Smart Columbus initiative, sparked by the city winning the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) inaugural Smart City Challengeand part of the grant it won. And this is part of a wide series of initiatives around transportation the city is rolling out — both because of and separate from the grant award — including launching its Smart Columbus Operating System, offering $30,000 in rebates to taxi companies that replace existing vehicles with electric cars, hosting a smart city data hackathon and purchasing 10 electric buses. And late last month, the city’s Smart Columbus Experience Center opened to give the public a taste of what else is to come.
And there has been a move in cities towards deploying autonomous shuttles, including in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Austin, Texas and Las Vegas. The latter had a rocky beginning with its autonomous shuttles in its downtown core, including an accident with a delivery truck just after launching, but since then, shuttle operator Keolis says they’ve been “generally accepted.”
Columbus is taking a phased approach to rolling out autonomous shuttles, aiming to test, operate and evaluate the shuttles while at the same time educating the public about the new options available. And with the low-speed shuttle connecting destinations like the Center of Science and Industry (COSI); the National Veterans Memorial and Museum; the Smart Columbus Experience Center; and Bicentennial Park, it should be a good way to encourage tourists and locals alike to not drive while also staying safe.