PSTA launches first of its kind AV pilot in Tampa Bay region

Nov. 24, 2020
AVA will begin serving the public Nov. 25 on Bayshore Drive.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Beep and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) launched the first of its kind autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot program in downtown St. Petersburg.

The fare free all-electric shuttle, named AVA--short for Autonomous Vehicle Advantage--is the state’s first autonomous vehicle fleet launched by a transit agency in mixed traffic.

AVA will operate along Bayshore Drive Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. beginning Nov. 25 until February 2021. The shuttle uses eight sensors on the outside of the vehicle providing a 360-degree view of the environment. An on-board shuttle attendant, or copilot, serves as an ambassador for the riders to learn more about the technology and oversee the passenger experience. Riders will be able to enjoy the Waterfront District of the Sunshine City, including attractions like the St. Pete Pier, the Vinoy, Mahaffey Theater and Dali Museum. 

“We are beyond excited for the community to try this all new experience with AVA,” said Brad Miller, CEO, PSTA. “Like an attraction at Disney World, we hope all who come to enjoy AVA leave with a better understanding of how technology can help enhance safety all while providing clean-energy solutions that could transform transportation.”

“We appreciate PSTA’s forward thinking and perseverance in bringing the AVA to fruition. This project exemplifies FDOT’s ongoing effort to enhance mobility through innovation and partnership,” said FDOT District Seven Secretary David Gwynn. 

The functionality of the shuttle is enabled by a safe, pre-determined planned route. AVA is equipped with multiple onboard LiDAR sensors and GPS tracking to ensure the path is maintained during operation. The vehicle performance is monitored by an onboard shuttle specialist as well as Beep’s Global Command Center located in Orlando. The vehicles are 100-percent electric, cost less than $30 per month to charge and react 10 times faster than a human can, says PSTA.

“AVA is another example of PSTA leading the way in innovation in transportation by bringing in unique and futuristic technology that can benefit our community,” said Joe Barkley, chair of the PSTA Board. 

“Launching AVA along Bayshore Drive is the first step into the future of safer and transformative transportation along the tourist corridor. Public and private partnerships such as the project with PSTA will only continue to position the state as innovators and integrators of autonomous technology in the transit industry,” said Joe Moye, CEO of Beep. “We are committed to the safe testing of these vehicles in communities and with agencies who share the same vision of implementing the transportation of the future on the roads of today.” 

The autonomous shuttle will operate at a maximum speed of 15 mph as part of a three-month pilot. Riders will be required to wear a seatbelt and use a face covering while on the shuttle. Passengers can expect processes and procedures onboard that align with best practices for ridesharing and transit according to federal guidelines such as frequent cleaning procedures and a modified seating capacity. Passengers are limited to one round trip. Shuttle service and routes will be operating until February 2021.