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UBC students may soon have a free driverless electric shuttle bus service

The groundbreaking new service should be launched sometime in 2022
An Easymile EZ10 at Texas A&M University.

A proposal to bring little driverless transit vehicles to UBC has come forward.

In it BCAA and the university are planning to start two routes on the UBC campus using the EasyMile EZ10 autonomous shuttle. The EZ10 is a small passenger vehicle designed to move people without a driver or track; instead, it uses a variety of sensors including cameras and lidar along with GPS monitoring to move on a set route.

Currently driverless, or autonomous, vehicles aren't legal for use in public in B.C.; to move forward the provincial government will need to make an amendment or exemption for the shuttle to be used. 

If all goes according to plan the shuttles may be in use at UBC by early 2022.

The pilot project would see one route on the pedestrian path from Thunderbird Boulevard to West 16 Avenue through the Varsity Fields; that's about 750 m. The second would be a 2.2 km loop from the UBC Bookstore to Stadium Street.

Plans are for a free service running Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. with shuttles about every 15 minutes. While EasyMile says the EZ10 can handle up to 12 passengers, the report notes the shuttles would be expected to carry six seated passengers and one operator.

EZ10s are in use in other parts of the world, with more than 100 shuttles shuttling people about worldwide. The fully electric vehicle is designed for mixed traffic and is being used on campuses and in communities. It works in temperatures from -15 C to 45 C, and in snow, rain and fog.

The report was submitted to the TransLink board as they deal with most transit in the region, but the board voted to accept the staff's recommendation that the project wouldn't require TransLink's oversight or approval. 

The project would be funded through Transportation Canada with UBC using it as a chance to research the system. That's actually why TransLink staff made their recommendation; the project is considered to be primarily for research instead of mobility. If that shifts a new decision will be needed.

"TransLink recognizes the benefits to this research and will be interested to see the results of this pilot which are expected to be available in 2022," writes staff in the report.