Organizations considering low-speed automated shuttles should have a good understanding of the technical capabilities, operating environment requirements, and evaluation metrics needed to succeed early on in the project design phase.
State of the practice report provides context on common challenges and suggested mitigations for deploying low-speed automatic shuttles.
Made Public Date

Low-Speed Automated Shuttles: State of the Practice Final Report


To better understand the emerging area of low-speed automated shuttles, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) partnered with the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe) to review the current state of the practice of low-speed automated shuttles. These vehicles share many characteristics with other forms of automated vehicles but include unique considerations in terms of design, operations, and service type, including: fully automated driving (intended for use without a driver); operational design domain (ODD) (restricted to protected and less-complicated environments); low speeds (cruising speeds around 10-15 mph); shared service (typically designed to carry multiple passengers, including unrestrained passengers and standees); and shared right-of-way with other road users, either at designated crossing locations or along the right-of-way itself.

Lessons Learned

Where barriers can be anticipated, it is possible to create mitigation strategies. These strategies need to be targeted to different organizations, including private firms, transit agencies, academia, deployment communities, and the general public, including transit riders. Considering the following elements upfront may help deployers match capabilities to requirements, plan for contingencies, and ensure that data collection can support decision-making.

  • Welcome technical assistance: Deployers contemplating low-speed automated shuttle pilots may benefit from outreach, planning assistance, and professional capacity building. For example, technical assistance could include educational materials for both agency staff and the traveling public or a paper documenting best practices for procuring advanced technologies.
  • Understand the technical capabilities of a desired vehicle: Before committing to a particular vehicle, deployers should work to understand its limitations and talk to other communities or operators who have previously used the particular shuttle model being considered to understand its capabilities and limits.
  • Identify operating environment requirements: Communities should identify early applications that provide useful services in low-risk environments to allow for early demonstrations and learning. As technical capabilities expand, more ambitious applications may be considered in an incremental manner.
  • Simplify operating environments: Measures such as adding signage, training, or use of an on-board operator—can allow a shuttle to operate in an environment that might otherwise be too complex for safe operation.
  • Conceive a contingency plan: Communities should plan for and map several potential routes before deployment, reducing the potential for delay and cost overruns if the shuttle route unexpectedly needs to change due to external factors.
  • Identify proper evaluation metrics: Deployers should consider service or learning objectives of the deployment project upfront and use those objectives to identify useful evaluation metrics. Once the metrics of interest have been identified, deployers should work with other stakeholders to ensure that they will have access to the appropriate data to support project objectives. Furthermore, due to potential tensions in data sharing, it is advisable for deployers to identify their important metrics of interest in advance and negotiate data sharing agreements upfront.
  • Engage Stakeholders: Deployers bring together leaders and representatives from a range of backgrounds (e.g., state and local governments, labor, public safety, operators, contractors, and others) who will likely be involved in project implementation or who may affect or be affected by the project. Projects may benefit from involving a broad range of stakeholders early in the planning process, as stakeholder ownership and buy-in may help with some of the financial and acceptance challenges associated with a shuttle project. Projects with early engagement can be designed with stakeholder preferences in mind rather than needing to change later on to address concerns.
  • Share Knowledge: Organizations participating in deployment should produce documentation and participate in activities to disseminate information on challenges, lessons learned, and research results both internally and externally (e.g., to other organizations that may be conducting similar work). Other organizations not deploying shuttles, such as governments (local, state, or federal) nonprofit organizations, or industry associations should also provide guidance or best practices documents based on the experiences of others.
  • Train and develop the needed workforce: Community colleges, nonprofit groups, transit agencies, or other relevant organizations could develop curricula on and provide training programs for automated shuttle operation and maintenance. In addition, some level of training may be needed for first responders, or other professionals, who may need to interact with low-speed automated shuttles (e.g., in emergency situations). Training and education of operators, riders, or other road users who may need to interact with demonstrations may also be important to ensure that individuals have reasonable expectations in terms of how shuttles will behave, where they will operate, and how deployments will affect the surrounding area.
  • Develop relevant standards: Standards are published documents produced by standards development organizations (SDOs) that establish specifications and procedures to promote reliable and consistent performance of products and services. Development of appropriate standards for low-speed automated shuttles would help address a range of issues, such as supporting functionality, interoperability, comfort, safety, accessibility, and passenger comfort.
  • Do not overlook procurement opportunities: Foreign companies, including EasyMile, 2getthere, and Navya, have created U.S. offices and are looking to begin manufacturing shuttles domestically themselves or through partners, due in part to Buy America requirements. When appropriate, deployment communities shoulder consider using state funds rather than federal funds for procurement.
  • Be flexible for funding: Some deployers are pursuing private and local funding to cover costs, as well as considering the use of advertising (either on-board or external) or vehicle sponsorships. Though most deployments are for research purposes and do not currently include passenger fares, some deployers are considering charging fares in future phases.
  • Employ public testing: Additional pilots and demonstrations of low-speed automated shuttles may help deployers expose the public to the technology, potentially improving understanding, comfort, and acceptance. Further testing may also build internal staff capacity in understanding the steps involved in piloting a new mobility technology.
Goal Areas