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Driverless buses coming to Durham?

Region eyeing autonomous technology for pilot project

Autonomous shuttles like this could be coming to Durham Region as part of a pilot project. The proposed program would run for one year. (City of Beaumont, Alberta Twitter photo)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Durham Region Transit is looking at the possibility of bringing driverless buses to Durham.

DRT general manager Vincent Patterson is seeking regional council’s approval to further discuss with Pacific Western Transportation (PWT), a Canadian transportation company, the potential development of an automated shuttle pilot.

DRT has been partnered with PWT since 2017 to deliver transit services in Whitby and north Durham.

Under their current agreement, all vehicles operated by PWT in Whitby are owned by DRT.

According to staff report, Patterson is also asking for authorization to identify and pursue funding sources for the pilot. This can include government, public or private partners for funding contributions.

Finally, Patterson is looking to report back to the region’s transit executive committee in order to receive approval for the terms of the pilot.

This will include timelines, risk management, contract and funding arrangements, and all of the necessary contributing partners.

The purpose of the pilot program, which would run for one year, is to “better understand technology performance in a range of weather and traffic conditions.”

DRT officials also hope to assess operational, financial and customer service benefits, as well as any potential implications of automated shuttle technology.

The region’s transit organization is also hoping to gain a better understanding of the necessary physical and digital infrastructure necessary for a “safe and efficient operation of driverless buses.”

Patterson also contends the program will  “raise the profile of Durham Region as a forward-thinking jurisdiction preparing for coming changes in transportation and mobility.”

According to the report, PWT has been deploying fully accessible 12-person automated electric vehicles in cities such as Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver since September 2018.

Patterson writes there have been preliminary concept discussions with PWT regarding a potential test of the driverless automated shuttle.

The test would be over one year, and will be in a first mile/last mile role. It will connect Whitby south with GO and DRT transit services at the Whitby Station.

The shuttle would have an on board attendant at all times who will assist passengers with boarding, fare payment and other customer service needs.

“In the event of any technical or operational issues with the vehicle, the attendant is able to disengage the automated navigation system and assume control of the vehicle,” Patterson explains in the report.

Cost estimates are still in the works, and a business case analysis will be completed before the pilot is implemented.

DRT is also working on an analysis of risks posed to the regional municipality, which includes the assessment of the appropriate insurance.