Researchers at the University of Buffalo, New York, Conducted Business Case Analyses for Providing the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus with Automated Shuttles.
One category of Automated Vehicles (AVs), low-speed automated shuttles, has garnered interest for the potential to improve mobility particularly in addressing the first- and last- mile problem for getting to and from public transportation. Researchers in the Buffalo-Niagara region of New York conducted a study to evaluate the technical feasibility, safety, and reliability of using AV technology via a low-speed, self-driving shuttle, research public policy issues for testing and operation on New York State roads, and estimate the costs and benefits of using self-driving shuttles. The study tested electric self-driving shuttles with a 10-person capacity and maximum speed of 25 miles per hour on a geo-fenced environment on the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst, NY. Twelve testing scenarios were designed for testing various aspects of the driving and maneuvering behavior of the shuttle, which used Lidar, radar, and camera sensors. In addition, survey results from riders (233 respondents) during demonstrations and from the overall Buffalo-Niagara region were used to determine the factors that contribute to public acceptance of AV technologies. In addition, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) was used as a test bed to assess the feasibility of the self-driving shuttle to provide “last mile” service from a financial standpoint, as well as for evaluating the likely benefits in terms of cost savings and reduced parking demand, fuel savings, and emissions reductions.
The study estimated costs based on a fleet of six AV shuttles each with a capacity of 10 passengers. The estimated ridership of this shuttle system operating at the BNMC was 270,000 trips per year. System costs, in year 2020 dollars, were estimated to include:
- Lease AV shuttles: Five shuttles were required, with one additional shuttle vehicle planned as a spare. The annual lease payment for the fleet of six shuttles was quoted at $660,000 by the manufacturer, totaling $3,960,000 for a five-year lease program starting in 2020. This lease cost included regular maintenance of shuttles.
- Capital costs related to shuttle garage: Part of an existing garage on the BNMC was selected as the shuttle storage, charging, and maintenance facility. Construction / renovation of this space was estimated to cost $1,000,000.
- Capital costs of shuttle shelters: Weather protection for patrons waiting for the shuttle would require shelters where existing bus stop shelters do not exist. The cost of each new bus stop shelter was estimated to be $15,000, for a total of $60,000 for the planned route.
- Operational costs (energy): Annual electric costs (to charge the shuttle’s batteries) were expected to be $10,000.
- Operational costs (insurance): Liability insurance for a self-driving shuttle was uncertain, as the experience profiles and accident rates used by insurance companies were nonexistent for this new market. Nevertheless, the research team consulted with some liability insurance experts and estimated that liability cost premiums could be as high at $250,000 per year.
- Operational costs (personnel): Two types of personnel were needed to operate a self-driving shuttle, an overall fleet manager, and shuttle stewards on each vehicle to assist if necessary. Both the fleet manager and steward positions would be part-time positions for the studied BNMC system. The estimate for all personnel costs including benefits was estimated as $200,000 per year. This cost would be $100,000 per year if stewards were not necessary.
Total annual cost: Including a 4.5 percent interest rate to cover financing of the garage and shelter components, the total overall cost of operating a self-driving shuttle with stewards on BNMC was estimated to be $1,365,000 per year over a five-year period.
Self-Driving Electric Vehicles for Smart and Sustainable Mobility: Evaluation and Feasibility Study for Educational and Medical Campuses
Total annual cost to deploy six low-speed automated shuttles: $1,365,000