TAMPA — The sleek autonomous vehicle looks like a minibus, but it purrs like a kitten.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Adelee Le Grand relaunched the driverless, electric AV vehicle, which carries up to six passengers, outside the Armature Works on Friday, the northern tip of its modest run down Highland Street to the parking lot of the Barrymore Hotel.
The quick ride is aimed at attracting a wide variety of passengers — tourists, daytrippers and commuters — “anyone and everyone,” Le Grand told reporters.
The transit agency hopes to gather data on ridership in the final month of the state-funded pilot, which began on Marion Street Transitway downtown in October 2020. The pandemic skewed ridership, said HART officials Friday.
The new Riverwalk loop will operate along Highland Avenue and Doyle Carlton Drive from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day in December. It can travel up to 15 mph with eight optical sensors slowing it down for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. The two shuttles will have an attendant on board to ensure safety and everyone will have to be masked, according to a HART news release.
The quiet vehicle costs less than $30 a month to charge and follows a pre-programmed, fixed-route. It has no steering wheel or pedals. Each attendant will be an “ambassador” for riders to explain the technology, the release stated.
The attendants will work for the private company, Beep, teaming with HART. Beep is an autonomous mobility solutions provider of driverless shuttles and services, headquartered in La Nona. a mixed-use planned community in Orlando. The company won a federal Department of Transportation BUILD grant in 2019 to help develop an AV network.
“Is this driverless?” asked a man from the passenger side of a car driving past the TV cameras and reporters as agency and company officials explained the concept.
When told yes, he replied “Cool,” shrugging as the car drove by.
For more information, visit www.gohart.org/avpilot.