Driverless electric shuttles to arrive at UBC Vancouver campus in 2022
Students, staff and residents of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver campus will benefit from a new way of getting around starting next year, when an automated electric shuttle pilot project technology will emerge.
BCAA is spearheading a free shuttle service using driverless vehicles, partnering with UBC and Rogers Telecommunications as a research opportunity, and with Transport Canada providing funding.
Two routes using EasyMile’s EZ10 autonomous shuttle model will be operated for the pilot project.
Route 1 would run north to south along the footpath through the Varsity Fields Sports Center, between Thunderbird Boulevard and West 16th Avenue – from Thunderbird Parkade and Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Center to the village of Wesbrook.
Route 2 would also provide north-south links, approximately 2.2 km in length on the East Mall between University Boulevard – the heart of the university campus – and Stadium Road. There would be a total of eight stops for Route 2, including the UBC Bookstore, Hospital Lane, the Brimacombe Building, the Thunderbird Boulevard intersection and north of the Stadium Road intersection.
Although EZ10 vehicles are automated, they will always be piloted by an operator. The vehicles will operate at low speed and have a capacity of six seated passengers.
The BCAA Shuttle will operate over a 12-month period from Monday to Friday, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. The estimated frequency is every 12 to 18 minutes.
Given the nature of the project and the involvement of the federal government through Transport Canada, the project should receive the necessary final approvals.
TransLink staff have previously reviewed the project and found it to be out of its independent transit service (ITS) classification, given that the primary focus of the shuttle is research and not general mobility.
ITS services are essentially private transit or shuttle services that are directed, fully self-funded and operated by municipal governments, private operators or other entities. All ITS requests are regulated and reviewed by TransLink, which makes its decisions based on whether the proposed service could have a negative competitive impact on the ridership and finances of its transit services.
Examples of ITS previously approved by TransLink include the free summer shuttles to Richmond, the Tri-Cities and White Rock, and the private short-term Beyond-Shuttle service from Surrey to UBC.
As the BCAA shuttle is not considered under the ITS, TransLink staff noted that the transit authority does not have the authority to regulate the service. But staff have indicated they are keen to see the results of the pilot, given that automation is seen as a long-term possibility for buses under Transport 2050.
However, the BCAA and UBC will require an amendment or exception by the provincial government, in order for the automated service to comply with the framework of the BC Motor Vehicle Act.
The same model of high-tech automated electric shuttles first appeared in Metro Vancouver in 2019, as a free technology demonstration as part of the City of Vancouver and City of Surrey joint partnership for the challenge of Smart Cities from Infrastructure Canada.
In early 2019, the EZ10 vehicles were traveling through the Vancouver Olympic Village along 1st Avenue West from Manitoba Street to the Olympic Village Station, and performed loop demonstrations in the Civic Plaza in Surrey.
However, Vancouver and Surrey ultimately failed in their offer to the federal government to build the first two multi-modal corridors without collision with driverless vehicles.
Previous Canadian demonstrations of EasyMile vehicles have taken place between the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark, as well as in the suburbs of Montreal and at the Montreal Olympic Park.
During the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, an automated demonstration shuttle was operated in the Athletes’ Village by Toyota. Service was suspended midway through the Paralympic Games, after the automated shuttle struck and injured a visually impaired Paralympic athlete – even though an operator was at the controls and Toyota’s model e-Palette was traveling at low speed.