Driverless shuttle could operate in Calgary next year

The University of Alberta wants to use the one kilometre stretch between the zoo and Telus Spark as a test bed for a small electric shuttle vehicle. A city committee approved of the plan on Wednesday.

U of A pilot project could take passengers between zoo and science centre

A city committe voted in favour of a plan that would allow a driverless shuttle to operate between the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Anyone looking for a quicker way to get between the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark could have a new option next year: a driverless shuttle.

The University of Alberta wants to use the one kilometre stretch between the two facilities as a test bed for a small electric vehicle.

City council's transportation and transit committee — which eventually voted in favour of the pilot — spent a few hours on Wednesday debating the future of transportation technologies in Calgary, including autonomous vehicles.

The zoo-science centre shuttle would operate at a low-speed on city land but not in traffic — it will be physically separated from pedestrians and other vehicles. An operator would be on board in the event of an emergency.

The vehicle could carry up to 10 passengers and would travel at 12 kilometres per hour.

Information presented to the committee indicated the pilot project would last only two to four weeks with the timing to be decided by the U of A.

Low cost project for city

The city's manager of transportation planning, Chris Blaschuk, said there are a lot of opportunities for Calgary to try the technology.

"We feel we can bring a pilot to Calgary at a very low cost with no impact to the budget," said Blaschuk. "Our role is really facilitating the site for that to happen."

The report suggests this would be the first test of a fully autonomous passenger vehicle in Canada on a public road.

Coun. Shane Keating, who chairs the transportation committee, said taking part in this pilot project sends another message.

"Obviously the attention that it'll bring and the possibility of attracting other autonomous companies and research modes that will come to Calgary. It will say OK, we are moving forward," said Keating.

More game-changing technologies coming

The councillors were also given the rundown on a number of new and developing transportation technologies.

The list included autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, electric vehicles and bikes as well as how connecting to the internet can change how traffic flows in cities.

With the new technologies that are being anticipated, Peter McCaffrey with the Manning Centre told the committee he questions the need for the city to be spending billions of dollars on a new LRT line.

He wants the city to do a new cost-benefit analysis on the $4.6 billion Green Line before construction begins, currently slated for 2020.

McCaffrey said the city assumes the Green Line will operate for 60 years once it's completed, but he feels it could be obsolete long before if the travelling public shifts to cheaper, more convenient forms of transportation.

"We're talking about driverless vehicles being available before the Green Line even opens, never mind looking into the actual operation timeline of the Green Line," said McCaffrey.
City council will debate the shuttle and the future of transportation in Calgary report later this month.