A bill before the Maine Legislature would help set the stage for putting self-driving buses on the streets of Portland and other communities in the state within the next five years.
The proposal, sparked by the Portland city manager’s interest in autonomous transit, is the first piece of Maine legislation to deal specifically with self-driving vehicles.
The bill would allow communities to develop, test and operate pilot programs using autonomous vehicles for public transportation. Pilot programs would require a written agreement between the municipality, the secretary of state, Maine Department of Transportation and Bureau of Insurance. Cities and towns would have until March 2022 to enter into such an agreement.
While the bill was sparked by interest in Portland, lawmakers believe it would benefit the state more broadly as autonomous vehicles become more numerous.
There is no pending proposal for an autonomous shuttle in Portland, but city officials believe a vehicle like the Olli—a low-speed, electric, autonomous multi-passenger bus built by Arizona-based Local Motors—shows promise. An eventual proposal could involve Local Motors or another company.
The idea would be to connect the Portland Transportation Center at Thompson’s Point to the waterfront along Commercial Street. A shuttle could benefit tourists arriving by bus or train, but also ease downtown traffic congestion by offering additional parking space.
The Olli is still undergoing tests on private courses and Local Motors does not expect to start a pilot program until spring 2018. Other communities and organizations, especially colleges and universities, have shown interest in autonomous transit vehicles like the Olli, and will get a chance to apply to be part of a pilot program.
Source: Portland Press Herald