A fairly cute, compact, autonomous bus is now taking passengers around a loop on Treasure Island, as part of a pilot program exploring how autonomous vehicles (AVs) can supplement public transportation.
The all-electric shuttle, called the Loop, is being operated by AV company Beep, and the program was announced in July by the Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency and the SF County Transportation Authority.
Riding on the Loop shuttle is free, and it's now operating seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., doing a 20-minute loop around the island to help the 2,000 residents there get to the store, etc. It makes seven stops on its low-speed loop, it can take 10 passengers at a time, and there is an attendant on board who can control the bus if necessary via remote control.
"Having the attendant on board makes everyone feel comfortable," says Tilly Chang, executive director of the SFCTA, speaking to KPIX. "This is just a demonstration for now to see, what does it look like and how does it work to have a driverless shuttle in a low-volume, low-speed environment?"
There are currently two of these Loop shuttles in operation — one can operate on the loop while the other charges.
Beep is operating similar autonomous shuttles already at the Mayo Clinic, the Miami Zoo, and at Yellowstone National Park.
A project manager for Beep, Shelley Caran, tells KPIX, "These shuttles are built for first-mile, last-mile, short connectivity routes. They're not intended to take the place of a bus system."
This testing period only lasts from this month until April 2024, at which point the Loop passenger service is scheduled to end. There will be community feedback gathered by the SFCTA throughout the pilot, and there is reportedly outreach going on with local labor unions, etc.
"We are excited to bring this new autonomous vehicle shuttle pilot to serve Treasure Island,” said Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency Board Chair and District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey in a statement. “This is an important step toward helping us create a more sustainable, accessible community for the growing population of Treasure Island."
Experts say that there likely won't be fully autonomous, unstaffed buses in our future anytime soon — but bus operators may increasingly need to be trained in how to babysit the technology, if and when it gets incorporated into public transit systems.
Construction is underway on several residential projects on the island, and ultimately, Treasure Island could be home to over 10,000 new residents, as more projects get underway. One of those projects, the 250-unit Tidal House, recently "topped off" in its construction process, and it is now prominently visible from the Bay Bridge.