February 14, 2017 06:48 PM
The driverless bus concept might not be far off in Minnesota.
"That's kind of how we started working on this project, is to get ready for the future," said Jay Hietpas, state traffic engineer at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The project is called the "Minnesota Autonomous Bus Pilot" and it's already underway. Hietpas said it's only in the planning stages and MnDOT still needs a partner to provide the buses.
The hope is that Minnesotans ultimately have a say in how the new technology is developed, especially given the state's harsh climate and streets that get covered with both snow and road salt.
"We want to make sure that those technologies are ready to work inside of our environment so when they are ready to roll out, they will be able to come here to Minnesota," Hietpas said.
Exactly how long that'll take isn't clear.
"The industry experts are all over the field," Hietpas said. "Some people are gonna say it will take decades for fleets to turn over. Others are saying it's going to be five to 10 years. We don't really know."
The pilot project will be done in two phases. The first, already underway, is a planning stage. Hietpas said it will cost about $355,000, money that will come from MnDOT's research fund.
The second phase is when MnDOT will actually test the buses. The cost is undetermined at this time, but the hope is that the testing kicks off sometime next year.
As it turns out, some Minnesotans are already coming around to the idea. That includes Tom Bartlett, who rides the bus -- with a driver -- every single day.
"I actually don't believe that human beings can operate automobiles safely," Bartlett said.
Soon, he might just get his way.
Updated: February 14, 2017 06:48 PM
Created: February 14, 2017 03:41 PM
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