Beaumont testing autonomous shuttle on busy 50th Street

Beaumont, just south of Edmonton, is the first city in Canada to test an autonomous shuttle in an environment that includes other vehicle traffic, pedestrians and regular traffic signals.

'We're not afraid to try and bring new ideas,' says mayor of Edmonton bedroom community

An autonomous electric shuttle drives alongside other traffic on 50th Street in Beaumont on Thursday. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Beaumont, a small Alberta city just south of Edmonton, is the first city in Canada to test an autonomous shuttle in an environment that includes other vehicle traffic, pedestrians and regular traffic signals.

"Beaumont is an innovative city where we're not afraid to try and bring new ideas," Beaumont Mayor John Stewart told CBC News during the project's launch on Thursday.

"With the wave of technology that's coming in the future, we, as a community, need to know what it's going to take to put those vehicles on our roads safely."

The six-month pilot project is being conducted in partnership with Pacific Western Transportation and its electric autonomous (ELA) shuttle.

The pilot project launched Thursday and will run until October.

The shuttle operates on a one-kilometre route in the east lane of 50th Street, the main north-south road through the community of about 19,000 people. The route includes one traffic light and a marked pedestrian crossing.

A certified operator is onboard at all times while ELA is operating in the event the vehicle needs to be switched to manual mode.

Members of the public can ride the shuttle without charge at any time it is operating. Riders can also book online to secure a spot.

ELA introduced in 2015

ELA has been deployed more than 170 times in 20 countries across four continents since it was introduced in 2015.

The vehicle can carry eight to 10 people at a time. Overall, more than 300,000 people have been passengers worldwide without incident, according to information provided by the City of Beaumont.

ELA has been tested on closed routes in other Canadian cities, including Edmonton and Calgary, but this is the first time it is being fully integrated with other traffic, regular traffic lights and pedestrians.

Last year in the Montreal suburb of Candiac, Que., a pilot project was launched using a different autonomous electric shuttle on a two-kilometre route.

But unlike the Beaumont pilot, in which the shuttle reads and interprets a regular traffic signal, the Candiac project used smart traffic signals controlled by the shuttle.

The Beaumont project will provide "valuable insights and learnings" about autonomous vehicle operations, the city said in a news release.

After the pilot project is complete, a report on findings will be compiled.

Dan Finley, vice-president of business development for Pacific Western Transportation, said the opportunity to test ELA in a real-life setting highlights an exciting time in the transportation industry.

"The plan that we have for the next six months is to continually test how the vehicle interacts with people, other vehicles and traffic signalling," Finley said.

Beaumont is contributing $200,000 to the project from its reserve funds.

The shuttle can carry eight to 10 passengers, and can accommodate strollers, walkers and wheelchairs. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

With files from Min Dhariwal