Dominion Energy plans to roll out an autonomous, electric shuttle named “Relay” for testing in Merrifield as early as next week.
The self-driving shuttle will make a loop between the Mosaic District to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station. Fairfax County and Dominion Energy teamed up last year to start the pilot program to improve connectivity between the station and the shopping center, which are just under one mile apart according to Google Maps.
Peggy Fox, Dominion Energy’s spokesperson, told Tysons Reporter that testing is expected to start soon on the pre-mapped route. “It will be several weeks before we’re able to accept passengers,” Fox said.
Currently, the autonomous shuttle, which was made by the French company EasyMile, is in Alexandria awaiting its move to Merrifield next week, Fox said.
According to Dominion Energy, Relay is the first test of autonomous public transportation in Northern Virginia.
Photos courtesy Dominion Energy
Autonomous vehicles connecting the Mosaic District to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro may arrive as soon as next spring.
Earlier this year, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors decided to start a pilot program for self-driving vehicles as a shuttle service. Dominion Energy and the county decided to partner up on the program.
Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn said at a Bisnow event today (Thursday) that the autonomous vehicles are expected to arrive in the spring or summer.
The vehicles will come from EasyMile, which is based in France, she said.
Flynn also said that the county has received a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, but did not disclose the amount.
Photo via Facebook/EasyMile
The Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $250,000 in grant funding for Fairfax County to test driverless technology in public transportation, according to a press release. Fairfax County will provide $50,000 in local match funding to the pilot.
The program was the topic of extensive discussion at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors work session yesterday (Tuesday). The pilot project will have an autonomous shuttle running from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station to the Mosaic District, closing a 1-mile transit gap between the two locations.
The project is a collaboration between Fairfax County and Dominion Energy, which would identify, select and purchase the shuttles.
The shuttle would be free to ride with no ticket or pass needed.
The work session included a discussion of safety challenges related to operating an autonomous shuttle, particularly the challenge of getting the shuttle across Lee Highway. The press release noted that the shuttles will undergo extensive testing before passenger service can begin and a safety steward will be on board to monitor operations.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is set to consider the formal partnership agreement at the Tuesday, June 25, Board of Supervisors meeting.
Rendering via Optimus Ride
Fairfax County is moving toward autonomous vehicles connecting the Mosaic District to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro.
At a work session today (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors reviewed plans to start a pilot program for self-driving vehicles as a shuttle service.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Leonard Wolfenstein, chief of the transportation planning section. “We have several partners in the public and private sector.”
Wolfenstein said the mile of distance between the Metro and the Mosaic District was one of the main reasons it was being eyed for the autonomous vehicle pilot.
“The Mosaic District is a vibrant and active growing sector of the county,” said Wolfenstein. “Mosaic is roughly a mile from the Metro, so it’s a great first-last mile type of environment to test this out.”
Under the planned partnership, Dominion Energy would identify, select, and purchase shuttles while Fairfax County government would oversee its operation. Who actually operates the shuttle is still to be determined.
Staff noted that concerns about safety, like how shuttles would affect pedestrians and cyclists, are still to be determined. In particular, staff said the “tricky situation” is figuring out whether the autonomous vehicles will safely be able to cross Lee Highway.
“The proposed path would create an environment where there are opportunities for all those users,” staff said. “At the end of the pilot, there will be a report published to establish a regulatory framework. This is the only pilot like this in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Clinton Edwards from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation said that the department was reviewing the business case for automated vehicles. Edwards said the department was considering cost, insurance, liability concerns and private-public partnership issues.
But for members of the Board of Supervisors, most of the questions focused on how to get the public on board with the idea.
“The key is to create buzz,” said Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust. “People need to think of Fairfax County when they think of autonomous vehicles.”
Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth said the partnership should rely heavily on Edens, the Mosaic District property management company, for that.
“Turn the marketing of this over to Edens,” said Smyth. “Let them do what they do best.”
Image via Optimus Ride