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  • By John R. Quain

NHTSA Shuts Down a Shuttle

Many companies working in the autonomous driving space cite the tardiness or absence of government regulation as a major impediment to improved safety and adoption. Recently, French transportation company Transdev discovered just how much of an impediment it can be.

Transdev is operating self-drivng shuttles in a smart community in Florida and was surprised by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announcement that the government agency wanted the company to stop transporting school children in Babcock Ranch in Florida on Transdev's EZ10 Generation II driverless shuttle.

In an October 19 press release, NHTSA said that having school children on the shuttle was "unlawful" but such shuttles have been used to transport people of all ages going back to November of 2017, according to Transdev. The new route took a few children a 3-block distance on private roads to the school as part of additional testing. (How NHTSA became confused and called it a "school bus" isn't clear.)

Even though Transdev had not received an official notice from NHTSA, the company told me it would suspend the route until proper regulatory issues--if any--had been sorted out.

"It's the same shuttle we're running on other routes, and it's not run by the school," explained Lisa Hall, a spokesperson for Babcock Ranch. "It's community transportation and not a school bus," said Hall in a phone interview.

Babcock Ranch is a smart community being built in Florida, focusing on sustainable technologies including solar power and healthy living initiatives.

"It's a living lab," said Hall, who described it as a high-tech, wired community, "Mayberry meets the Jetsons."

The shuttle itself only travels at 8 miles an hour, but both Babcock and Transdev said they would work to address any concerns NHTSA might have. In the meantime, Transdev's shuttles will continue running on the other Babcock routes.

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