The Jacksonville Transportation Authority unveiled its latest autonomous vehicle, the second lease, on the designated test track from Intuition Ale Works to Daily’s Place Amphitheater.
The EasyMile Gen-2 is the latest model produced by Transdev, and it offers twice the battery power and engine power of Transdev’s first model, which JTA leased previously. The new vehicle also charges twice as fast and has new features like USB charging ports, hydraulic doors and a touch screen operating panel. Designed to carry about 12 passengers, the vehicle could be paired together in a fleet of vehicles or break away for cab-like service.
JTA CEO Nat Ford said many manufacturers are interested in offering their vehicles for test programs. He noted that JTA is considering as many as six new test track locations, which would allow the organization to test vehicles in a variety of settings – areas with high pedestrian traffic, tunnels, even alongside vehicular traffic. There is no rush to open a new track, however. “We’re focused on slow, safe, deliberate deployment,” said Ford.
JTA is experimenting with a variety of vehicles in preparation for an overhaul of the Skyway, the city’s decades-old monorail. The 2.5-mile elevated tracks will ultimately become designated lanes for autonomous vehicles, and the system will be extended via off ramps that allow the vehicles to enter traffic and reach Springfield, San Marco, EverBank Field and other areas beyond the downtown area in what has been dubbed the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C).
The Skyway has outlived its useful life, and it is expensive to maintain,” said Ford. “We need a solution soon.”
The test tracks are an important step in working out the kinks of a system before making such a large investment, Ford noted.
“They’re [other cities are] testing a shuttle; we’re testing a network,” said Ford
JTA is carefully reviewing future locations and may open another track as soon as this fall. The organization wants to ensure that new locations are safe and don’t compete with the current test track, which will be made available to the public for events.
“Everybody is rushing,” said Ford, referring to other cities’ efforts to open many, small-scale autonomous shuttle tracks. “We could do that for a quick win, but what do we learn from that? Does it distract from what we’re trying to do?”
JTA has no plans to operate autonomous vehicles in mixed traffic in the immediate future and will keep its current test track open for two years.