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Gov. Murphy Calls For Electric, Self-Driving Transit Proposals

The governor’s office has requested that companies submit proposals for building and operating an all-electric, self-driving microtransit system in Trenton that could serve as many as 90,000 people.

(TNS) — Trenton, N.J., could get the state’s first all-electric powered, micro-transit system with self-driving mini buses under a request from interested companies to build and run it, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

The governor’s office put out a call for a “Request for Expressions of Interest,” or RFEI, for companies to submit informative proposals to the state Department of Transportation for the design, build-out and operation of the future system.

The state is asking for a system that would be similar to Jersey City’s “Via” program that transports residents by mini van within the city, except this will lack chatty drivers and air pollution from internal combustion engines. That service has expanded since its Feb. 2020 launch.

Called, “Trenton Mobility & Opportunity: Vehicles Equity System (MOVES),” the micro-transit system would use a fleet of 100 all electric powered, self-driving vehicles. They would transport people on demand, who call for a ride with a smartphone app or from one of 60 kiosks to be built in Trenton and on the outskirts, according to the RFEI.

Passengers would be dropped off at any other kiosk or at a safe location along roads connecting kiosk locations. Officials estimated TrentonMOVES could serve about 90,000 people.

While smaller self driving micro transit systems are being experimented with in Europe, Brooklyn and Texas, Trenton MOVES could help make the state an innovation center, Murphy said in a statement.

“There is perhaps no initiative that embodies this goal more than the Trenton MOVES project, which will attract tech talent from around the country and the world with the mission of creating an autonomous vehicle-based transit system in our Capitol that will provide a new, affordable transportation solution for underserved areas of Trenton,” he said.

“This is an exciting project with immense potential, and I look forward to the day that the first vehicle hits the road.”

The system is geared to serve the 70 percent of Trenton households that don’t have access to a car and would charge a low cost fare to riders in neighborhoods underserved by public transit, officials said. It would be the first large-scale urban transit system in America to use self-driving shuttles, officials said.

Trenton’s system would have a “safety host” on board vehicles during the first two years of operations, who would hosts “welcome and assist the riders” and serve as backup drivers in case of an emergency, the RFEI said. Hosts would have autonomous vehicle training and must pass manual and AV driving qualification tests.

The four-to-eight passenger vehicles would be equipped with GPS feeds connected to police and fire department and 911 dispatch centers, internal live cameras with recording capability that would be monitored from a central operations center, two-way communications with the operations center, smoke and fire detectors, and vehicles with child safety seats.

The heated and air conditioned vehicles would be accessible for wheelchairs and riders with mobility issues, have audio and outside signs in English and Spanish and accept credit cards, transit passes and ride vouchers for fare payment, the RFEI said.

While Jersey City’s Via system uses conventional mini-vans, the parent company has started a similar autonomous, on-demand electric micro transit systems in Arlington, Texas called “Rapid,” that was launched in March 2021. The company and the University of Texas at Arlington introduced five self-driving vehicles, including a wheelchair accessible one, into the city’s micro transit fleet.

Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti envisions the system being replicated elsewhere in the state.

“Trenton MOVES represents an opportunity to utilize innovation to sustainably improve the quality of life of the mobility-constrained in many of our cities,” she said in a statement. “By starting in Trenton, we will have the opportunity to work with a close and effective partner. Ultimately our vision is that this effort will ideally scale throughout the state and the region.”

While New Jersey’s system would be the first of its kind in the state, it is not the first into metro area. Optimus Ride uses six autonomous electric shuttles to transport commuters between a ferry dock and the Brooklyn Navy Yard industrial park. That system started operating on Aug. 7, Mass Transit magazine reported.

Tests of similar electric, AVs started this spring in Gjesdal, Norway, Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia, in the spring and other pilot programs were scheduled to launch this fall in Lamia, Greece and Helmond, in the Netherlands, Interesting Engineering reported.

The MOVES project is project is being developed by the Governor’s Office, NJDOT, the City of Trenton, and Princeton University. Responses from interested companies are due to the DOT on Feb. 11.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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