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HART's driverless shuttle on hold for downtown Tampa

Startup has been delayed indefinitely for the P-1 autonomous shuttle, unveiled in November during the Florida Automated Vehicles Summit at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. The shuttle had been expected to start serving downtown Tampa in January.  [ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times]
Startup has been delayed indefinitely for the P-1 autonomous shuttle, unveiled in November during the Florida Automated Vehicles Summit at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. The shuttle had been expected to start serving downtown Tampa in January. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]
Published Jan. 8, 2018

TAMPA — A highly touted autonomous shuttle project along the Marion Street Transitway won't be ready by the NHL All-Star weekend at the end of the month, as previously planned.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the county's bus agency, oversees the project. Problems arose with the contractor, Stantec, which didn't meet certain requirements, HART spokeswoman Sandra Morrison said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tampa will get a look at its driverless downtown shuttle, launching in January (Nov. 13, 2017)

"They were not performing under the terms of the contract," Morrison said. "The proposed cure was insufficient and they received a notice of termination."

HART officials are working with Stantec to find a resolution. Morrison said the agency can't comment further because of potential legal disputes.

The NHL All-Star weekend will take place during what will be a busy Jan. 26-28 weekend in downtown Tampa. The skills competition will take place on Jan. 27, the same Saturday as the annual Gasparilla parade.

The new driverless shuttle service might start as soon as summer, Morrison said, but there is no projected date.

The P-1 electric shuttle, an autonomous vehicle without a human driver, was scheduled to start serving the public for free on a trial basis this month. The P-1 has seats for 14 people plus standing room for six and would run 0.6 miles along Marion Street in eastern downtown from the Marion Transit Center south to Whiting Street and back.

The shuttle was supposed to be able to get smarter over time, detecting and reacting to pedestrians and other vehicles in a 360-degree range.

Tinkering with routes: As expected, the HART board also approved a list of $2.3 million worth of bus projects to supplement the roll out of Mission Max, a complete overhaul of the agency's bus network.

The changes includes connections to the airport to Tampa International Airport and Tampa General Hospital, along with more frequent trips for some routes.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: After 88 days, complaints in for HART's reduced bus routes, service

Those include increasing the frequency on routes 6, 34, 35, and 56 so they run every 15 or 30 minutes; extending route 19 so it runs to Tampa General Hospital rather than requiring riders to switch to a shuttle; adding trips on the 24LX to MacDill Air Force Base; and adding the 75LX South County Shopper Shuttle on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The changes depend on the approval of the Hillsborough County Commission, which is expected to discuss the plan Thursday. If the commission approves the list, those route additions can go into effect Feb. 25.

HART chairman and County Commissioner Les Miller expressed concern last week that some county commissioners might try to tinker with the project list.

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Miller, who was not present at Monday's board meeting, said he has heard that a couple commissioners want to specify what routes get the new money rather than having HART staff decide.

"The routes, I heard, are routes that aren't really utilized that much by consumers, by those who use the buses," Miller said. "People in certain parts of the county want a bus system that comes to their area, even though the routes aren't well utilized.

"And, let's face the facts, it's an election year."

There are four commission seats on the 2018 ballot. Commissioner Stacy White is running for re-election while Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman are running in new seats.

Miller said his original understanding was that the $2.3 million would go to routes where ridership was increasing or to areas where riders were stranded after Mission Max eliminated buses in their area.

"HART staff already has the routes in place and what they want them to look like," Miller said. "Now we have all kinds of things going on."

A new CEO: Board members decided Monday to hold off on conducting a national search for a new chief executive to replace Katharine Eagan, who took a similar job at the transit agency in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Instead, the board extended the contract of interim CEO Jeff Seward from six months to 12 months. Seward previously served as the agency's CFO.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough loses transit leader Katharine Eagan to a better funded agency (Nov. 8, 2017)

The board can determine after the 12 months is over whether to conduct a national search. It can also decide at any point during the period whether to make Seward the permanent CEO.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.