Plans to have a self-driving shuttle transporting tourists and residents between downtown Napa and the Oxbow district are on the back-burner.
The Napa Valley Transportation Authority (NVTA) in 2018 announced it hoped to debut the service this year. But the demonstration program never happened.
One barrier is a cost of well over $1 million for a one-year program. A hoped-for Bay Area Air Quality Management District grant failed to materialize. A search for private partners didn’t yield the needed money, NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller said.
“I think everyone wanted it, but I think not enough to pay for it,” Miller said.
Another obstacle is getting through federal and state red tape, she said.
Plus, the NVTA has other priorities, Miller said. She mentioned Soscol Junction, which is a planned project to ease congestion at the intersection of Highway 29/Highway 221/Soscol Ferry Road.
The self-driving shuttle dream isn’t dead, even if it is on indefinite hold.
“Certainly if there’s money out there for it, we’ll continue to pursue it,” Miller said.
The autonomous shuttle would have held about 15 people and traveled up to 30 mph. A route between downtown hotels and the Oxbow district was to have all right turns, so the shuttle wouldn’t need to make left turns across traffic. An attendant could override the computers, if need be.
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Miller said an autonomous shuttle would get more people out of their cars to give the new technology a try. It could draw investment to the area from technology companies.
NVTA had planned to work with Transdev, which operates the local Vine Bus service, on the autonomous shuttle.
Transdev bills itself as a “leader in operating shared autonomous mobility services.” Transdev autonomous vehicles with no steering wheels or pedals have transported 3.5 million passengers and travel more than a million miles annually, the company’s website says.
One Transdev initiative that didn’t work out was an attempt last year to transport school children at Babcock Ranch in Florida using a school-bus yellow, self-driving shuttle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration halted the program.
“School buses are subject to rigorous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that take into account their unique purpose of transporting children, a vulnerable population,” an agency press release said.
Still, the Federal Highway Administration said on-road testing and early deployment are important to improving automated vehicles that use sensors and computers rather than human drivers to navigate roads.
“Their potential to reduce deaths and injuries on the nation’s roadways cannot be overstated,” said a Federal Highway Administration publication titled “Preparing for the Future of Transportation.”
Bishop Ranch business park in Contra Costa County last year started using an autonomous shuttle.
The NVTA had hoped to join the autonomous vehicle demonstration push this year. Now that project, like widespread use of self-driving cars, is a dream for the future.