MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – If you’ve been in downtown Rochester recently, you may have noticed a new kind of transportation.
The driverless, electric, six-passenger shuttles are the first of a kind to be traveling the streets in Minnesota. There are two shuttles in downtown Rochester. They’re part of a 12-month pilot program set by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Mike Toll is staying in downtown Rochester to get treatment for cancer. He said the orange and purple automated technology have benefited him greatly because he doesn’t have a car. The free rides operate weekdays Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
“It’s kind of interesting, I’ve ridden on this for enjoyment,” said Toll. “It takes me right where I’m supposed to go for treatment.”
The automated vehicles make two stops along its 1.5 mile route. It stops at the Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building and People’s Food Co-Op. While the vehicles are benefiting those in the area, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said they don’t expect it to make huge difference yet. Right now the Med City Mover is being tested in a live-action setting to help prepare for the future of the advancing technology.
“There’s a lot of diverse perspectives and people that live and visit Rochester. It’s a great opportunity to partner with those different entities to see how Rochester thinks of this,” explained Tara Olds, the deputy director of MnDOT’s Connected and Automated Vehicles Office.
Feedback will help inform future transportation decisions throughout the state such as infrastructure gaps. Olds said about 400 passengers have hopped onto the free rides so far, with mostly positive feedback. She said so far, one of the main concerns is how slow the vehicles travel and where the shuttles stop.
“They travel at most, maximum speed of 15 mph, compare that to the fastest cyclist on city roads,” said Olds. “We’ve heard concerns about where shuttle stops are, with changes and different parking and things like that.”
MnDOT has used automated vehicles in the past in controlled settings including Nicollet Mall and the Super Bowl. However, Med City Mover is the first to navigate under real-life traffic conditions like potholes, jaywalkers and distracted drivers.
While the shuttles are automated, by state law an attendant is required to be on board to take over operations if necessary.
“I hope they expand it,” said Toll. “I can’t think of a better way to help mass transportation.”
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