Edmonton is moving ahead with plans to partner with the University of Alberta on testing driverless vehicles.

A committee of city council approved a plan Wednesday that includes the hiring of three new staff and providing $325,000 to the U of A project for the purchase of a test vehicle.

The plan will be considered by city council as a whole when it debates a new budget in the fall.

The technology for driverless vehicles is coming sooner than people realize, Paul Godsmark, with the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, a non-profit group, told the urban planning committee.

paul godsmark

Driverless vehicles will become a reality sooner than people realize, Paul Godsmark, with the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, said Wednesday.

Some experts predict the vehicles will be available for purchase as early as 2018, Godsmark said.

But he said the city's goal of becoming the northern testing city for autonomous vehicles in partnership with the U of A may be coming two years too late.

He said autonomous vehicles are "going to be huge" within the $10-trillion mobility sector.

Godsmark made a presentation to the committee as it discussed the next steps for the city to move ahead with plans to partner with a research project underway at the U of A.

While the city has been looking at autonomous vehicles as complementary to transit, Godsmark said they will more likely be in direct competition because Edmonton is so spread out.

"I can see them basically doing an Uber," said Godsmark.

"LRT will not stand a chance" against autonomous vehicles, he said.

While some will be available for people to buy, Godsmark said the majority will be operated as part of a fleet.

These fleets will provide door to door, on-demand service, probably at a similar cost to transit, added Godsmark.

They would likely be used to transport people from their homes to LRT or express transit services, he said.

People would no longer own their own vehicles and the average Canadian family would save $3,200 a year on vehicle expenses, he added.

'Unknowns and assumptions'

"There are a lot of unknowns and assumptions," Peter Ohm, manager of sustainable development, told the committee.

"We're counting on you to figure it out," said Coun. Dave Loken.

The city has interested partners and a site for testing and should move ahead, said Coun. Andrew Knack.

"This has always been a matter of when's it going to happen, not if," said Knack. "If all we keep doing is have one person working off the side of their desk on this, we're not going to be prepared as a city on just how transformative this will be."

The impact is not just on transportation, but city-wide, he added.

Coun. Scott McKeen said regular updates from local experts are needed to "understand the freight train that's coming."

To test autonomous vehicles on provincial roads the Alberta government will need to make legislative changes, city staff said.

Staff have promised to keep councillors updated. The next report is to be provided in September.