Driverless vehicles coming soon in Arlington entertainment district

Driverless shuttles are coming to the Arlington entertainment district.

Two EasyMile EZ10 shuttles will be in service by June, following precisely programmed “virtual tracks” in parking lots and on trails to ferry riders between their cars and Globe Life Park, AT&T Stadium and other destinations.

The City Council voted Tuesday to approve a six-month lease with a six-month option with the shuttles’ maker in France. The cost is $272,000 for the year.

The shuttles are a pilot project, part of the city’s stepped-up quest for solutions to its current and future transportation challenges. A special committee has been studying various transportation modes and how and where to deploy for serving residents, students and tourists. Its recommendations could be out by late summer.

Driverless technology is a key component. In a staff report, city officials call the pilot project an “opportunity to test autonomous vehicle technology in a real-world setting and help position the city at the forefront of the transportation technology movement.”

Although the final transportation plan will include a variety of modes, Mayor Jeff Williams has been clear that he doesn’t see big buses and light rail running through the city.

“We have new technology and private companies that are coming forward,” Williams said. “I think we will have opportunities to make choices in transportation that will be less expensive and safer.”

John Dugan, community development and planning director for the city, said the EasyMile shuttle had no competition in the city’s study. “It’s the only one in the country right now able to do the kinds of things we want to test.”

He said riders will be queried about their experiences to help determine whether to go full-time with the shuttles and whether to expand service to other parts of the city, such as the University of Texas at Arlington and the hotels north of Interstate 30.

“We’re not saying this is something we’re going to adopt in the future,” Dugan said. “But it could play a role in a larger system.”

The boxy, battery-powered EasyMile shuttles can seat 12 passengers and travel up to 25 mph. The navigation system is driverless, but a chaperone always will be on board just in case something malfunctions. But most of the attendant’s time will be spent helping people on and off — the shuttles are wheelchair accessible — and taking feedback to help the city’s evaluation of the program, officials expect.

Under Texas law, autonomous vehicles have to steer clear of the street.

Driverless vehicles, including cars, will be appearing more frequently in Arlington as a testing program of the Transportation Department gears up. The federal agency has named the Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership as one of 10 nationwide pilot sites for automated vehicles.

Williams said he sees a bright future for driverless shuttles in Arlington.

“In fact, every transportation conference and mayors conference that I’ve gone to are all talking about the technology here,” he said, “and autonomous people movers can be an alternative for us today.”

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST