Self-Driving Mass Transit has Arrived

The EasyMile EZ10 autonomous vehicle in use in Columbus. (Kevin Miller/Bloomberg News)

The South Linden neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio will be the first to experience a daily, public residential autonomous shuttle.

For the next year, residents of South Linden will be able to ride the self driving shuttle on a route that extends almost three miles. The shuttle was one of several projects to arise from the Smart Cities Challenge, which was aimed at encouraging midsize cities to develop advanced transportation modes using electric and autonomous vehicles.

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With a $40 million federal grant, an additional $10 million from the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., plus contributions and services from regional employers including Ohio State University and Honda Motor Co., “Smart Columbus” was born.

The scope of the program is audacious for a midsize U.S. city. It funds demonstration projects ranging from electric-vehicle test drives to digitally connected cars. It’s also building kiosks with payment systems that let users plan trips combining multiple kinds of transportation — including e-scooters, bicycles, Uber, Lyft and the city’s bus system, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA).

“Columbus was chosen to model how new technologies work in a real city, with real people, solving real problems,” Smart Columbus says on its website. “Conducting demonstrations will be our new way of attacking challenges.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrote special rules to govern Linden LEAP, including limiting speed to 25 mph and stopping service when schools open and close for the day.