Driverless vehicles in downtown Tulsa would improve the safety and efficiency of the city’s public transportation.
With the opening of the Gathering Place on September 8, city council officials are currently deciding on new forms of transport in Tulsa. These new driverless shuttle services would allow visitors to ride from the Gathering Place to Philbrook Museum. Each vehicle would have no steering wheel, no pedals and no driver’s seat. The electronic shuttles would drive in existing car lanes, drive around 20 miles per hour and hold a maximum of 15 people. I believe that these vehicles would be a financially viable and safe mode of transport that would help citizens and visitors explore areas across Tulsa.
One major positive feature of the buses are their energy efficiency over time. According to Adriane Jaynes, Energy Programs Coordinator with Indian Nations Council of Governments, an electronic self-driving shuttle costs around $250,000 to $300,000. Since the shuttle runs on an electronic battery, the city would spend less than $2 every day on fuel costs. The current price for a gallon of gas is currently around $2.43. With a one-way trip of 1.4 miles from the Gathering Place to the Philbrook, the use of a small electronic vehicle helps massively lower fuel costs versus a regular bus or other vehicles.
Additionally, driverless vehicles lack the need for bus drivers and the resulting necessary salary. The city of Tulsa’s current plan would be to have an attendant on board for the first three-to-six months to greet and explain the vehicles to patrons. After this trial period, the shuttle would drive completely autonomously with no need for human interaction.
Some may fear that the vehicles would crash due to the lack of a human driver. In explaining how the vehicles work, Jaynes stated, “There are cameras and sensors all over the outside of this thing, as well as on the inside for the safety of the passengers. It sees everything … They never blink, they never check for texts. They’re a computer. They are always paying attention.” The shuttles also use a tool called LiDAR which uses light rays to determine the distance between objects. Through the use of GPS and cameras, the shuttles should be able to make their trips safely for the riders inside.
Autonomous shuttles are already being used across the world and especially in the United States. Cities such as Arlington, Texas and Las Vegas have already accepted and seen success through the use of these new systems. In Arlington, the government created a similar system known as Milo, which drives passengers along specific passageways to sporting events and other activities. Ann Foss, principle planner with the city of Arlington, stated, “I think a circular loop around a series of different destinations is something these vehicles are well-suited for.” Additionally, a ridership survey performed by the Arlington city government found that 99 percent of Milo riders enjoyed riding and felt safe riding the vehicles. Due to their success, the city plans to create a version that rides on the streets, similar to the plans in Tulsa. The use of a similar program in other cities shows off its validity as a vehicle that can help transport people to important destinations at low cost.
This program would be safe, financially viable and useful for the citizens of Tulsa. To further promote the Gathering Place and other places, such as the Philbrook Museum, new forms of transportation are critical. The city council should go forward with this plan and see if it would be a viable option for the City of Tulsa.