Assessing the potential of autonomous transit shuttles as a first-and-last mile public transportation solution

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Walls, Daniel Beckett
Guensler, Randall L.
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Automated vehicle (AV) technology has the potential to improve safety and vehicle energy efficiency, increase mobility, lower travel costs, and increase roadway capacity. Much of this potential, however, relies on how the vehicles are deployed and the resulting shifts in travel behaviors. If the travel cost and mobility improvements are realized, the success of AVs could come at the expense of public transit ridership. Facing this modal competition, there may be an opportunity for transit agencies to integrate AVs into their existing systems as a first-and-last mile solution for riders; merging the efficiencies of passenger rail and mass transit with the door-to-door convenience of personal vehicles. This research assesses such a scenario to model whether there would be travel time, cost savings, and other impacts to riders. Specifically, this research assesses the potential for on-demand, fully electric AV shuttles to serve as a first-and-last mile solution within 2.0-miles of all MARTA rail stations. A multi-modal routing platform was used to simulate trips and compare travel times between the proposed AV shuttle-transit service and the existing modal options of driving a conventional vehicle, walking to and from MARTA’s current bus and rail network, and using park-and-ride lots to access MARTA. The routing platform used for this research also includes an energy module and a cost module, allowing the modal options to be compared on energy consumption per trip, and cost to the traveler. Demographic information tied to the trip data was retained, offering a high-level picture of potential populations served. Nearly 7,000 trips were processed through the routing platform. On average, travel times for the simulated AV shuttle service were not competitive with conventional driving (when parking time is excluded), but they were competitive with park-and-ride, and showed significant travel time improvements over MARTA’s existing service. Driving also came in with the lowest average trip cost, excluding parking and sunk vehicle costs. In terms of energy consumption, the proposed AV shuttle service showed significantly lower energy use than the other modes. The AV shuttle service would offer other benefits as well, including expanding MARTA’s effective service area, travel time savings for transit captive riders, and improved transit service for minority populations.
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