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Congested Region Explores New Form of Autonomous Mobility

Transportation officials in the San Francisco Bay Area are working on a plan to use Glydcars — small, electric and autonomous vehicles — to make last-mile connections to more traditional forms of transit.

The San Francisco Bay Area is exploring a new mobility option that involves small, electric autonomous vehicles traveling along their own dedicated roadways.

The project, located in Contra Costa County, relies on vehicles known as Glydcars — four-person, electric and autonomous vehicles traveling along “guideways” fully separate from vehicular traffic on increasingly congested arterial roads. The concept is known as Dynamic Personal Micro Transit (DPMT) and is imagined as a solution for making connections to regional public transit easier.

“We’re very excited about this project and believe it will significantly improve the quality of life in the communities we serve,” said Federal Glover, chair of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), and a member of the Tri Delta Transit Board, in a statement. “It’s a bold step toward a more sustainable and accessible public transportation system for Contra Costa County.”

The DPMT project has evolved to developing the public-private partnership among the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Tri Delta Transit and East County Connection Partners, which comprises Glydways and Plenary Americas. Flatiron has been identified as the lead construction contractor. Construction on the project could begin as early as 2026, say officials. An early cost estimate placed the 28-mile project’s price tag at $450 million.

Initiatives like DPMT are envisioned as solutions to deal with the ever more traffic-congested Bay Area, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. State Route 4 (SR4), which connects the East Bay to San Francisco and other areas, has grown increasingly congested. About 79 percent of residents in the East Bay use the route on their daily drive to work, according to a CCTA analysis.

Planners across other parts of the Bay Area have proposed still other ideas to help alleviate regional traffic and curb pollution. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is exploring the idea of introducing tolling on area freeways during peak travel times. Funding from the project could be used to improve public transit and other modes, say officials.

Considering initiatives to improve transit, as well as introduce new forms of mobility like the Glydcars, have been embraced more strongly than say, widening existing highways.

“If lanes are widened, it invites more traffic because it invites development along those corridors as well,” said Anup Tapase, project manager for MTC, during a Nov. 7 virtual public meeting to share ideas and receive feedback from residents regarding the freeway tolling concept. “And that capacity usually gets filled up within a couple of years, and then we have the same problem with congestion again.”

A better solution, said Tapase, is to “optimize what we have with our freeway capacity, and then at the same time encourage more development not where there’s more freeway capacity, but also where there’s more transit.”

Other interests, meanwhile, are advocating for more cycling infrastructure.

“If we really want to get people on e-bikes, whether they use incentives, or whether they can afford to buy an e-bike themselves, we need safe roads for them to ride on,” said Laura McCamy, bike specialist with the California Bicycle Coalition, speaking at a recent Micromobility America conference.

“To keep them riding, we need to give them protected bike lanes, and it’s expensive. It’s a lot more expensive than giving someone $1,000 to get an e-bike,” she added.

This article first appeared in Government Technology, sister publication of Industry Insider — California. Both are part of e.Republic.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas for Government Technology magazine.