Loudoun County looks to self-driving and other shuttles

Self-driving shuttle buses and publicly run, app-based, on-demand transit are probably coming to Loudoun County, Virginia, at least on a trial basis.

Small self-driving shuttles could focus on areas near the county’s new Metro stops that are likely to open in the second half of next year, said Scott Gross, Transit and Commuter Services manager.

“If we can get to apartment complexes, senior centers, senior living areas that are close to rail stations, that would be a great use for these things,” Gross said last month.

A new Customs and Border Protection IT headquarters near the Ashburn Metro — and the large Silver District West development not far from there — are top candidates for initial autonomous shuttles, Gross said.

Like shuttles at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and National Harbor and like the one planned for Fairfax County’s Dunn Loring area, the vehicles would likely go no more than 25 mph while carrying about 10 people.

The vehicles could have their own space marked off for them on slower roads or sidewalks in Loudoun County.

“We haven’t gone through all the details of that yet, but we are very excited,” Gross said.

The county could apply for state or federal grants or work with a private company on the shuttles.

“It’s petrifying and fascinating to me all at one time,” Loudoun County Board Chairman Phyllis Randall said.

Solving that fear will be key to autonomous vehicles becoming more commonplace, Gross responded.

For now, most of the autonomous vehicles have attendants on them to reassure riders.

Uber for buses expected in Loudoun

The separate on-demand service would be a pilot program similar to ones underway in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the District. They allow riders to call a bus the same way they might call an Uber or Lyft. The bus provides trips within a designated zone.

In Loudoun County, the system could be rolled out first in or around Leesburg in an effort to make current buses that get stuck in traffic more effective.

Like Montgomery County, Loudoun would likely use the Via ride-hailing software as a back end system, with discussions already underway to set up a pilot program.

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