A self-driving shuttle is coming to Toronto’s east end

Toronto plans to test out an autonomous shuttle that would connect a transit desert in the West Rouge neighbourhood in Scarborough to the Rouge Hill GO station — but if the idea of a driverless vehicle makes you nervous, don’t worry: there will be someone staffing it all times, the city says.

Mayor John Tory announced Monday that the city will soon begin consultations on the trial, which would launch in 2020 in partnership with the provincial transit agency Metrolinx and the Toronto Transit Commission, and be funded by the federal government.

“While there have been hundreds of demonstrations and trials of automated transit shuttles globally, this will be the first for Toronto and the only trial in Canada that will be conducted in partnership with transit agencies and which seeks to understand the specific potential of automated shuttles in the transit system,” Tory said.

The vehicles, which would likely be able to seat eight to 12 people, would all be electric, the mayor said. And while there would be no driver, an “ambassador,” likely a transit employee, would be on board.

Toronto isn’t the first city to pilot a driverless transit option.

Montreal has piloted self-driving buses as part of a project meant to test the feasibility of autonomous vehicles on that city’s streets. The bus in that pilot was equipped with sensors and a navigational system, and ran at a maximum speed of 15 km/h.

The Alberta city of Beaumont, south of Edmonton, was the first city in Canada to test an autonomous shuttle in an environment that included vehicle traffic, pedestrian and regular traffic signals. The six-month pilot ends in October.

Monday’s announcement was made as part of the mayor’s speech at the National Association of City Transportation Officials Designing Cities conference in Toronto, being held outside the U.S. for the first time.

“Toronto is growing at an unprecedented rate and with this growth we must focus on transit. Today’s announcement is another step towards building and expanding our transit system,” Tory said.

“The pilot for the automated shuttle will help residents access other transit options in the city and encourage more people to use our transit system.”

Details on the number of shuttles or the actual route aren’t yet finalized, but consultations are set to begin this fall.

The city to hopes to get the new shuttles on the road this time next year.

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