Jacksonville now at top of list for driverless transportation

Driverless shuttles could be cruising Bay Street in downtown Jacksonville.

Jacksonville is using this new technology to recruit companies downtown.

Action News Jax’s John Bachman recently traveled to Las Vegas to meet up with the head of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for exclusive access to a pilot program.

John took a ride in traffic to see how this driverless shuttle would work in Jacksonville.

On the north end of the famed strip, old Vegas shuttles in the Las Vegas of the future. Driverless technology is on the street. It’s the country’s only pilot program in traffic. Since November, the city’s program has given 10,000 rides.

Eric Bartch was visiting Las Vegas from Chicago.

"Vegas one of the few places in the world where that's actually happening right now," he said.

The shuttle was especially popular during the Consumer Electronic Show. Techies and hometowners checked it out.

James Lee lives in Las Vegas. He took his two children to see it.

"It'll be safer I think, which is for me very important," he said.

Safety is an issue for some. Lauren Pulver was visiting from New York.

"It looks really, really cool, but I'm not so sure I'm going to get on it," she said.

When the driverless shuttle first launched, it was involved in a minor fender bender. A human driver didn’t see the driverless shuttle and hit it.

Francis Julien operates the shuttle in Las Vegas.

"If the other vehicle would have been equipped with same technology, that accident would've been avoided," Julien said.

Right now, the shuttle tops out at 12 miles an hour. It goes around a half-mile loop that includes a section of the old Las Vegas strip.  However, the shuttle is capable of doing 30 miles an hour and eventually operators say that is the goal. Las Vegas has it, and Jacksonville transportation leaders want it.

"It's serious. We are moving in that direction," said Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford.

Ford said a driverless shuttle could be on the streets of Jacksonville in the next five years.

"Right now we're seen as front runner as far as having (a) viable project that we're moving forward and progressing with," Ford said.

Renderings of the project show the Jacksonville plan would use the existing Skyway route and expand into popular neighborhoods and to popular places like EverBank Field.

We asked how much the plan could cost.

Ford responded quickly, "We're not ready to do that."

There's no price tag on the project, but one of the driverless vehicles costs $250,000. Ford said one of his JTA buses cost $650,000.

He said it will be a big investment, but he said the federal government is interested in supporting the technology. He is in a good position to lobby for support as the chair of the American Public Transportation Association. He also said JTA is working on a public-private partnership to get companies to invest in Jacksonville’s system.

"If we're going to be vibrant downtown in Jacksonville, this is going to be key to it," Ford said.

Jacksonville and Las Vegas are two of 11 American cities which are leading the way in driverless technology for public transportation. Ford said in the next two to three years, he expects to have the current Skyway platforms converted so the shuttles can run on them.

Join me for CBS47 Tuesday at 5:45 p.m.

Driverless shuttles. Would you ride one? I Las Vegas with JTA CEO Nat Ford. #Jacksonville has a plan to lead the way in this technology. Watch this and Action News Jax on CBS47 at 5:45p Let me know what you think?! Should Jacksonville invest in this?

Posted by John Bachman Action News Jax on Tuesday, February 6, 2018