Feasibility and Demonstration of Small Automated Vehicles as a Viable Transit Solution in North Carolina

The state of North Carolina, as well as the United States in general, needs a new transportation modality that solves the circulator problem, with travel distances of 10 miles or less. The number of sites across the state that could use such a system are myriad and include: college campuses, corporate campuses, large shopping malls, airports, amusement parks and fairgrounds, sports complexes, dense urban centers, and downtown regions, along with interconnections between nearby and adjacent circulators. The important characteristics of the proposed solution include: low cost; quick, easy, and inexpensive installation; a narrow guideway footprint and elevated construction allowing installation on shoulders, medians, greenways, easements, etc.; automated travel and vehicle repositioning; immediate passenger access to vehicles upon arrival at a station (no waiting); no stops for passengers between stations (no delays enroute); and private cars for single passengers or couples. The pent-up market demand for a system with these characteristics is significant. For example, the North Carolina State University (NCSU) campus master plan includes a currently vacant transportation corridor intended to connect the Hunt and DH Hill libraries, a distance of approximately 2 miles. Unfortunately, no transportation system currently exists to fill this corridor. Barriers include cost, size, ease of installation, and travel time. NCSU researchers have conceptualized a new transportation modality, EcoPRT, to fill the corridor. Subsequent conversations with a number of key stakeholders in the Research Triangle Park (RTP) area have revealed significant interest for such a low-cost system at many sites. To date, NCSU researchers have built a full-sized, prototype vehicle and a small test track. This project seeks to further develop such a system. Investigation would include a pilot demonstration for the general public, a corridor feasibility study, and a state-wide economic impact analysis. The guiding principles for this research are: (1) significantly reduced costs compared to existing transit modalities including BRT and light rail; (2) significantly easier installation procedures, so that installation is similar to that of putting in utility poles for a power line; (3) narrow guideway footprint and elevated guideway placement so that guideways may be installed nearly anywhere, including shoulders, medians, easements, greenways, sidewalks, etc.; (4) no waiting at stations and no delays enroute for passengers; and (5) significantly reduced environmental impact compared to any other transit modality in current wide-scale use. The proposed work encompasses three types of effort: (1) actual construction of prototype vehicles; (2) deployment of vehicles for public demonstration and use; and (3) research activities to better understand statewide economic impact and potential siting possibilities. The final deliverables for this project include a working demonstration system on the NCSU campus, a final report outlining the research results and methodology, and a TREDIS Analysis for impacts. The results of this research will be important to North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to facilitate decision-making on the full potential of this new transportation modality