NJ Transit looks to future of self-driving vehicles

Oct. 9, 2019
The agency aims to test three self-driving shuttles as part of a pilot program lasting several years.

New Jersey (NJ) Transit demonstrated autonomous self-driving shuttles at the New Jersey Council on Special Transportation (COST) Expo in Edison. 

NJ Transit hopes to test the self-driving shuttles as part of a pilot program which fills the gap on first and last-mile transit options. 

NJ Transit submitted a proposal to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for a $950,000 grant to test three self-driving shuttles as part of the pilot program that would last several years. The first phase would be closed-course testing on a 40-acre site on a closed section of Fort Monmouth. Phase two would require obtaining permits to allow the vehicles to drive on public roads and carry passengers within the Fort Monmouth property. 

“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to add significant value to our service,” said NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett. “The ‘need’ is also there – especially for NJ Transit customers. Despite low gas prices and declining nationwide rail ridership trends, NJ Transit’s rail ridership went up approximately three percent from fiscal year 2018 to 2019. Our customers are clearly looking for ‘first mile, last mile’ options, and that’s what this pilot program is all about – exploring options for our customers, staying ahead of the curve and studying the benefits and challenges of this rapidly-advancing technology in real-world scenarios.” 

The autonomous shuttles have a 15-passenger capacity, travel at speeds up to 15 miles per hour and are 100 percent electric. NJ Transit has partnered with Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Technology and Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority for the pilot program.  By conducting the pilot program of low-speed autonomous shuttles, NJ Transit says it will learn what is needed to recommend these types of vehicles to community transportation providers who serve senior citizens, people with disabilities and other transit dependent residents. 

NJ Transit also says this program will enhance the understanding of the community-based transportation providers to potentially use these solutions for their customers who have fewer mobility options and would benefit from additional travel capacity. The self-driving shuttles can serve small area trips and feed NJ Transit and other fixed-route services, thereby enhancing ridership and customer satisfaction among community and traditional transit. 

This winter, the FTA is scheduled to announce recipients of funding on the grant proposals.