City of Gainesville offers test rides on driverless shuttles

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) –  The city of Gainesville is driving into the future with its autonomous shuttles that are hitting the streets.

City officials unveiled the driverless shuttles for their inaugural test ride starting in downtown Gainesville Monday morning.

The shuttles can hold up to 12 people including six people sitting down. It’s part of a larger program called “I-Street” which is a partnership between the University of Florida’s Transportation Institute, the Florida Department of Transportation and the city of Gainesville.

Residents had the chance to give it a spin from 8 a.m. to noon and then again from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The shuttle will operate on a pre-planned route starting on Southwest 2nd Avenue and ending on UF’s campus. During the testing phase, an operator will be present in case of an emergency, but the battery-operated shuttle can also sense other vehicles or bikers that are too close.

Jim Trebilcock, an IT employee with UF, frequently walks in the Innovation District for work, and he sees its potential.

“I think we’re a university community, and I think a big part of being a university is experimenting, expanding knowledge and so forth, so if we’re gonna have autonomous vehicles ... we have to know the work,” Trebilcock said.

City officials also hope to extend the transportation services to UF students in hopes of mitigating traffic around the campus.

Phoebe Emerson, a second-year UF student, drives to a bus stop to commute to campus. As long as it's a viable and simplified form of transportation, she can see its utility for college students.

“I feel a lot of pedestrians here on the UF campus notice the maybe the reckless driving patterns around campus, and I think it would be a better alternative for students,” Emerson said.

The project costs $2.5 million and will operate through June 17.