Autonomous vehicle proclaimed an answer to first-mile, last-mile barrier
Story/photos by Allen Best
It’s called the first-mile, last-mile problem of mass transit, and it has vexed transportation planners forever during the automotive era. Until you make it easy to get to and from light rail and other public transit, they will remain underused.
One possible answer will be tested soon at Peña Station Next, the laboratory for autonomous and other cutting-edge technology. Peña Station is the last stop before Denver International Airport on the A-Line from downtown Denver.
There, later this year, an autonomous (self-driving) vehicle is to provide a link between the light rail line at 57th and Pena and a bus stop located four blocks away at 61st and Tower Road.
Peña Station Next is the project being driven by Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. in conjunction with a variety of partners. With Xcel Energy it will test creation of a microgrid, capable of generating its own electricity. It is partnering with the Colorado Department of Transportation and its future-looking RoadX program and the Regional Transportation District.
For this self-driving vehicle, Panasonic has linked with Easy Mile, a French manufacturer of self-driving vehicles that recently set up shop in Denver. The vehicle shown Monday evening offers six seats and room for six people to stand.
On a round-trip ride Panasonic’s headquarters and the Pena Station light rail, a distance of maybe two blocks, an Easy Mile engineer said the car could top out at 25 mph, but more generally was geared to go only 15 mph. During the two-block ride, it moved at only about 6 mph. It is battery operated and normally can operate for a day without a recharge.
Public officials at the ceremony proclaimed it a solution to the first-mile, last-mile problem of mass transit.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper predicted that autonomous vehicles will “cure so many solutions to the things that have been vexing.” Broad adoption of the self-driving vehicles can improve air quality, reduce congestion and expand use of existing infrastructure, he said. He also pointed out that 95 percent of highway fatalities are the result of human errors.
In Colorado, Rutt Bridges has been boring down into the transformational possibilities of the new technologies in transportation. Hickenlooper mentioned that Bridges spokes last week at the Western Governors Association meeting in Arizona. There were 17 governors there, said Hickenlooper, and Bridges had “every one of them of them in the palm of his hands.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was equally expansive in his description of the importance of the technology.
“This is the key, the first and the last mile is the powerful piece we’re missing in so many situations around Denver,” he said at the gathering held at Panasonic’s headquarters at Pena Station Next. “This is a special day in the life of this city, and a special day in the life of our state,” he said.
That was also the view of Florine Raitano, director of partnership development and innovation with the Denver Regional Council of Governments.
“What we need is a well-designed feeder system to deliver passengers,” she said after the remarks. “Easy Mile is just one of many potential technical solutions. There are more to come.”
Raitano, a former mayor of Dillon, Colo., said she was excited by the technological solutions. Some mobility choices in 15 to 20 years will probably be the same as now, but many will be things we haven’t imagined yet.
Dave Genova, the general manager of RTD, said “some hurdles with state, federal and city regulations” remain to be cleared before the prototype at Pena Station Next can move forward. He did not specify.