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EDITORIAL: Driverless bus should be here to stay



Bus 9.28.17

Bloomington will be unveiling Indiana’s first driverless shuttle system Friday at the Fast Forward Bloomington event. The EZ10, manufactured by the French tech startup EasyMile, is completely electric and can transport up to twelve passengers at a time. 

The Editorial Board applauds the city’s interest in novel transportation solutions and hopes that it continues to embrace automation and invest in technologies that reduce Bloomington’s carbon footprint.

A full, long-term implementation of these kinds of automated mass transit solutions is not necessarily cheap. 

A similar EasyMile system in Arlington, Texas, costs $275,000 per year for the operation of two EZ10 shuttles but will ideally save money eventually by eliminating gas costs, environmental damage and driver salaries. 

These automated systems, replete with sensor arrays programmed to predict and prevent possible traffic accidents, will likely prove to be safer than human drivers, as well. As Aarian Marshall reported for Wired, “U.S. transit agencies spent $4.1 billion on casualty and liability claims between 2002 and 2011. A safer public bus would mean cash for public coffers, too.”

While driverless technology is still in its nascent stages, the ways it can benefit the transportation sector make it worth pursuing. 

But the EZ10 is not a perfect vehicle.  

The volume of riders would likely pose the biggest issue to such a system were it to be implemented in Bloomington. IU Campus Transit alone averages over 3.2 million riders annually. According to EasyMile, the EZ10s have only transported 180,000 people in the 18 countries in which they have been introduced. 

Furthermore, introducing a driverless system would eliminate a slew of well-paying driver positions that currently provide students and Bloomington residents with full- or part-time employment. 

Still, an automated mass transit system could be hugely beneficial to the Bloomington community. 

Late-night availability could hopefully reduce drunk driving and crime rates, and the early adoption of such systems could provide a valuable testing ground to gauge their viability in larger metropolitan areas such as Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The “Fast Forward Bloomington” event will feature free EZ10 test rides, along with electric and solar-powered bicycles, an IU School of Informatics and Computing booth and a replica of the first horseless carriage.

“Driverless buses will certainly be in our future, so we’re excited to be the first city in Indiana to have a public demonstration of this up-and-coming technology,” Mayor John Hamilton said in a statement posted on the city of Bloomington's website. 

“Technology changes the world every day, and Fast Forward Bloomington experiences will give folks a hands-on feel for what’s coming our way. It’s important for our city to get a glimpse of our transportation future because we need to be planning for it now.”

The Editorial Board is glad to see such a forward-thinking and open approach to newly developed forms of automation and environmentally-friendly transport. 

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