Business Brief: Jacksonville At Forefront Of Driverless Public Transit Planning

Aug 14, 2017

A conductor-less train is being tested in China, with plans to take on passengers starting next year.

Modern Cities co-founder Ennis Davis said the groundbreaking autonomous train has smaller-scale, slower cousins already moving through the streets of downtown Jacksonville.


Davis called the Chinese autonomous system— a train-tram hybrid—a potentially “disruptive” technology that could spread across the world to help cities with smaller infrastructure budgets modernize their transit. That’s because a driverless tram costs about the same as a new city bus, he said.

In Northeast Florida, driverless technology is already on the agenda at the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

“Jacksonville is actually at the forefront of autonomous vehicle planning,” Davis said.

In thinking about how to modernize and expand the aging Skyway monorail system, JTA is exploring autonomous cars that could travel on both elevated tracks and street level.

That could make it easy to expand service to new times of day—like overnight—and introduce the option of on-demand public transit, David said.

“Let’s say you’re in a neighborhood at 3 a.m.,” he said, “and it’s only you a couple of people. In the traditional situation, transit would have stopped running, but with newer technology, you could have an on-demand situation where a smaller vehicle comes to pick you up and it delivers you from point A to point B directly.”

That kind of service may seem like a distant fantasy, he said, but Jacksonville riders can see autonomous transit in action starting this fall, as JTA begins testing several vehicle models in runs between EverBank Field/Daily’s Place Amphitheatre and Intuition Ale Works along Bay Street.

A recent test of a driverless electric vehicle kicked of the experimental phase, as JTA plans for how the Skyway system can graduate from primarily a downtown circulator to a real viable connection with surrounding neighborhoods.

Ennis Davis is co-founder of Modern Cities

Contact Jessica Palombo at 904-358-6315, jpalombo@wjct.org or on Twitter at @JessicaPubRadio.