Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Students, staff, and residents of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver campus will benefit from a new way of getting around from next year when a high-tech, automated electric shuttle pilot pilot project hits the sidewalk.

The BCAA is at the forefront of providing a free shuttle service using driverless vehicles, in partnership with UBC and Rogers Telecommunications as a research opportunity, and with Transport Canada providing funding.

Two routes using the EasyMiles EZ10 model of autonomous shuttle services will be operated for the pilot project.

Route 1 would travel north-south along the pedestrian path through the Varsity Fields Sports Center, between Thunderbird Boulevard and West 16th Avenue – from Thunderbird Parkade and the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Center to Wesbrook Village.

Route 2 would also provide north-south connections that run a length of about 2.2 km on the East Mall between University Boulevard – the core of the academic campus – and Stadium Road. There would be a total of eight stops for Route 2, including the UBC Bookstore, Hospital Lane, Brimacombe Building, Thunderbird Boulevard junction and north of Stadium Road junction.

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Map of BCAA Shuttle Routes: Route 1 (red) and Route 2 (yellow). (Daily Hive / Google Maps)

ubc varsity fields pedestrian path

Route 1: UBC’s Varsity Fields’ footpath, looking north from West 16th Avenue and Wesbrook Village. (Google Maps)

ubc bookstore east mall

Route 2: UBC’s East Mall looks south from University Boulevard and the UBC Bookstore. (Google Maps)

While the EZ10 vehicles are automated, they will still be manned by an operator. The vehicles will run at low speeds and have a capacity for six seated passengers.

The BCAA Shuttle will run over a 12-month period from Monday to Friday between 6 p.m. 8 and 18. The estimated frequency is every 12 to 18 minutes.

Given the nature of the project and the involvement of the federal government through Transport Canada, the project is expected to receive the necessary final approvals.

TransLink employees have already reviewed the project and considered it outside their Independent Transit Service (ITS) classification, as the space shuttle’s primary purpose is for research, not general mobility.

ITS services are essentially private transit or shuttle bus services, which are led, fully self-financed and operated by municipal authorities, private operators or other entities. All applications for ITS are regulated and reviewed by TransLink, which makes its decisions based on whether the proposed service may have a negative competitive impact on the number of passengers and the economy of its public transport services.

Examples of ITS previously approved by TransLink include the free shuttle bus in Richmond, Tri-Cities and White Rock in the summer, and the short-lived, private Beyond-Shuttle service from Surrey to UBC.

As the BCAA Shuttle is not covered by ITS, TransLink’s staff has noted that the public transit authority does not have the power to regulate the service. But staff have indicated that they are interested in seeing the results of the pilot project, as automation is seen as a long-term eventuality for buses during Transport 2050.

However, the BCAA and UBC will require a change or exemption from the provincial government so that the automated service complies with the framework of the BC Motor Vehicle Act.

Driverless shuttle Vancouver

EasyMiles’ EZ10 driverless shuttle at Vancouver Olympic Village, 2019. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Driverless shuttle Vancouver

EasyMiles’ EZ10 driverless shuttle at Vancouver Olympic Village, 2019. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

The same model of high-tech, automated electric shuttle vehicles first appeared in Metro Vancouver in 2019, as a free technology demonstration as part of the City of Vancouver and City of Surrey’s joint partnership for Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge.

In early 2019, EZ10 vehicles drove into Vancouver’s Olympic Village along West 1st Avenue from Manitoba Street to Olympic Village Station, conducting loop demonstration tours of Surrey’s Civic Plaza.

However, Vancouver and Surrey ultimately failed in their bid for the federal government to build Canada’s first two collision-free multimodal corridors with driverless vehicles.

Previous Canadian demonstrations of EasyMiles vehicles were conducted between Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark, as well as within a Montreal suburb and Montreal Olympic Park.

During the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, a demonstration-automatic shuttle bus was run in Athletes Village by Toyota. The service was suspended halfway inside the Paralympic Games after the automatic shuttle hit and injured a visually impaired Paralympic athlete – even though one operator was in control and Toyota’s e-Palette model of vehicle was driving at low speed.

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