Mountain View considers driverless transit system to fight traffic congestion
By Charlotte Kosche
19 January 2018
Photo courtesy of SkyTran
In light of growing traffic congestion, the city of Mountain View is considering a plan to build driverless transit systems. This system would connect downtown Mountain View to the North Bayshore area, where Google’s headquarters are located.
The city is currently considering two ways to implement automated transit — automated vehicles and group rapid transit.
Automated vehicles could either mix with street traffic or use dedicated lanes. They can run once or twice per minute — much more frequently than regular buses — as there are no drivers to pay, according to Jim Lightbody, project manager of a city study of automated transit that is expected to be completed by February.
Alternatively, group rapid transit involves vehicles that carry small groups of people and operate on a track that elevates or otherwise separates the transit system from the road traffic.
Although images of automated buses and pods hanging high above traffic seem like excerpts from science fiction novels, driverless transit is “not exactly a new idea,” said Elizabeth Deakin, Professor Emerita of City and Regional Planning and Urban Design at the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley.
Such automated transit systems have already been built in other parts of the world, especially in “relatively controlled environments” such as office parks and airports, Deakin said in a phone interview.
For example, the AirTrain which carries passengers between terminals at the San Francisco International Airport, or the automated transit system developed by Morgantown, West Virginia as early as the 1970s.
Although such automated transit systems have been in existence for many years, the technology of automated vehicles is not yet fully developed, according to Deakin. Experts’ estimates for the breakthrough of automated vehicles lie between five and 20 years, Deakin said.
If Mountain View could surpass such developmental obstacles, the automated transit system would follow a route along North Shoreline Boulevard, connecting Mountain View’s Caltrain Station to the Googleplex and the NASA Ames Research Center in a loop or a T-shape, a distance of roughly three miles.
“The idea is that people could whisk to North Bayshore and get there from downtown within less than 10 minutes — even in high commute periods,” said Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel.
In addition to developmental obstacles, the automated transit system would also be expensive. A system for either group rapid transit or autonomous vehicles could cost as much as $80 million to $135 million per mile to build. As such, the City Council must identify funding sources going forward.
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