The California Department of Public Utilities has taken its bus fleet to the next level by adding a fully autonomous shuttle service, the agency announced Thursday.
In the next few years, the new bus service will be operated by a team of 10 employees and operate at speeds up to 80 kilometers per hour.
The new shuttle will be fully automated and will be able to operate in all weathers, according to a statement from the agency.
Transportation officials are confident in the autonomous shuttle, which they said will allow them to focus on the most important parts of bus operation.
“We’re going to be the leader of the industry in this,” said Michael Kugler, a California transportation expert who has studied the shuttle program.
The state is investing $500 million into autonomous shuttle systems and said that it will begin operating its autonomous fleet in 2019.
The agency said the new shuttle is designed to handle more people and be more flexible, which will help ease congestion in the Bay Area.
Transportation Commissioner Rob Kim said that the agency plans to spend $400 million to buy more buses and add the autonomous system in 2021.
But for now, the shuttle is expected to be a one-time event, as the new fleet is expected start rolling out over the next two years.
There is also an additional autonomous bus service planned for 2021, according the agency’s statement.
If the autonomous buses can meet the state’s needs, it will also be the first time that California has an autonomous bus system that is fully automated.
The announcement comes as transportation experts have questioned the safety of the buses and questioned how quickly a fully automated bus can replace the aging fleet.
Transit experts have raised concerns that the buses will not be able navigate on roads where traffic is heavy, especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which have large populations.
Transmission of the autonomous vehicles will require drivers to be fully trained and supervised, the statement said.