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How these Bay Area cities are paving the way for our autonomous car future

Erin Baldassari, The Mercury News on

Published in Automotive News

"We needed a way to escalate or bring this issue up to the surface and get the autonomous vehicle manufacturers to think more about accessibility," Miskell said. "It's just as important for the vehicle."

But, making an electric, automated vehicle that meets the Americans with Disabilities Act is no small feat. The first phase of the project will be to work with an autonomous vehicle manufacturer on how to develop such a vehicle, including adding features that automate securing wheelchairs, so they don't move around during the ride, or a video screen that uses sign language as well as speaking instructions and facetimes a customer service representative in case there's a problem that needs human intervention.

Then, Miskell says the team will begin testing the shuttle, first at a private facility and later, at the VA's medical center in Palo Alto, where it will pick up patients from bus stops and cart them throughout the campus. Ultimately, the shuttle will be deployed in other locations around the South Bay, including, possibly, the San Jose airport or downtown San Jose, Miskell said. Not only is the shuttle expected to boost transit use, but Miskell said it will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well.

"The project is really trying to explore how automated, accessible vehicles can be incorporated into public transit," he said. "Public transit has to be accessible. That really is critical."

The other grant recipients are below. Each project is subject to change and refinement:

Walnut Creek: The city plans to upgrade traffic signals and outfit buses with connected vehicle technology. The lights will stay green longer for the buses, based on how many people are on the bus and whether it is on time or delayed.

Dublin: The Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority, along with the city of Dublin, will begin testing a driverless shuttle on city streets. Ultimately, the goal is to use the shuttle to carry people between the BART station and a future job center near Arnold Road. The city will be looking to see if the shuttle helps promote transit use, improves the overall mobility around the route and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

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Los Gatos: Similar to the Emeryville pilot, Los Gatos plans to first upgrade its traffic signals to improve the flow of traffic and then deploy an app that detects when cyclists using the app are present, giving them longer green lights.

Contra Costa County: The Contra Costa Transportation Authority plans to upgrade its traffic signals to improve the flow of traffic and deploy an app that recommends a speed for buses to increase the number of green lights it hits. It also plans to deploy an app for passengers to make connections to BART more reliable.

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