Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Hampton Roads Transit join Automated Bus Consortium

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The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) have joined the Automated Bus Consortium (ABC), which is a national consortium of transit agencies examining the feasibility of deploying autonomous buses in select areas of the country, including Hampton Roads.

AECOM, a design and engineering firm, is overseeing ABC. Thus far, 12 agencies, including HRT, have committed to AECOM to serve as the consortium's founding members and to jointly make decisions.

“The future of transit is now,” says Jennifer Mitchell, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

“We are thrilled to engage in this pilot program with our partners at HRT as we work together to achieve our future vision of safe, efficient, and reliable transit services for communities across the Commonwealth.”

The effort will bring together agencies that operate in different climates and unique topographies, which will help advance understanding and limitations of autonomous vehicle technology. One of the ideas behind the pilot program is to showcase that automated bus technology can navigate and operate reliably in various environments, such as the flat deserts of the American southwest, or flood-prone Hampton Roads where congestion and crowded tunnels are the norm.

The consortium will define the best pilot regions and routes, while also developing operating plans and automated bus specifications. The consortium will also investigate the regulatory changes that will be needed to deploy these vehicles.

Eventually, the consortium hopes to jointly obtain 75 to 100 automated, full-sized buses. As of right now, it is unknown how many would be deployed in Hampton Roads or if HRT would move forward into part the program that includes the purchase of vehicles.

If HRT does qualify for some buses, they would be limited in use, and HRT notes that the majority of its fleet would still be operated by men and women behind the wheel for the foreseeable future.

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