A new kind of temporary local transit service: convenient, safe, quiet, zero emissions and accessible

The West Rouge Automated Shuttle Trial is a project launched in partnership among the City of Toronto, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), and Metrolinx.

This temporary trial uses a low-speed automated vehicle that is mostly self-driving. A human attendant will always be on-board to take over driving if needed. The shuttle began on-road testing in September 2021, and launched passenger service in November 2021. The service may extend until end of February 2022, depending how the vehicle performs in winter weather conditions.

Automated vehicles have the potential to reshape and redefine our transportation network. This trial is an opportunity for Torontonians to experience first-hand how it feels to ride on an automated vehicle, and to interact with it on public roads. It will also provide first-hand learning about the planning considerations for automated vehicle technology so we can further our goals of safe, green accessible and convenient transportation for all.

There is no intention to make this project permanent or scale up the use of automated shuttles at this time.

West Rouge Automated Shuttle Vehicle: At a Glance

  • Low Speed: Travels up to 20km/h when in autonomous mode; 40km/h in manual mode
  • On-board attendant at all times
  • Fully accessible and AODA compliant
  • Electric: quiet and emissions-free
  • Up to 8 passengers
  • Up to 1 passenger with a mobility device

West Rouge Automated Shuttle

On October 14, 2020, the City of Toronto announced it had signed an agreement with Local Motors to provide the automated shuttle vehicle and service.

The shuttle vehicle is the Local Motors Olli 2.0, the latest iteration of its 3D-printed, electric, self-driving shuttle. With a seating capacity of up to eight passengers, Olli is equipped with an accessibility ramp and a securement system for one wheelchair or mobility device at a time. It has audio and visual announcements both inside and outside the vehicle, and other features for rider information.

The shuttle is an automated vehicle (AV) that is mostly self-driving. A human attendant will be on-board at all times, capable of taking manual control at a moment’s notice and able to make decisions and guide alternate routes when the shuttle is uncertain about safety or ability to proceed.

Local Motors’ Olli 2.0 is equipped with redundant LiDar and radar sensors to analyse its surroundings and respond to road and traffic conditions around it. Paired with digital mapping of the route, the shuttle uses these tools to navigate the environment along a “virtual track” that is preprogrammed.

The shuttle will have a maximum speed of approximately 20 km/h while operating autonomously and may travel more slowly in some circumstances. When operating in manual mode it can travel up to 40 km/hour.

The Olli 2.0 vehicle has a single large door in the middle of the curb-side, and a manually operated ramp to enable wheeled access. Passengers use bench seating around the perimeter, with seatbelts for up to 8 people. However to help ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, occupancy will be limited to 5 people. Due to safety considerations, all passengers must wear a seatbelt. There is space in the centre to secure one mobility device such as a wheelchair or mobility scooter.


Shuttle is Accessible for All

The Olli 2.0 is designed to accommodate riders with disabilities. The shuttle has a ramp that can be deployed manually by the on-board safety attendant. The shuttle includes announcements audible both inside and outside the vehicle, and digital information screens inside and outside for passenger information and next stop announcements.

On the shuttle only one passenger with a mobility device (wheelchair, electric mobility scooter, etc.) can be accommodated at a time. The ramp and open floor dimensions for manoeuvering a mobility device are:

  • Ramp Width: 760mm
  • Door Opening Width: 950mm
  • Open Floor Area (width): 1700mm
  • Open Floor Area (distance from door to far-side seating): 1300mm

Due to space constraints, when a passenger using a mobility device is on board, we can only guarantee space for one other person. The on-line booking system required for all passengers is helping to respectfully manage space limitations.

A human attendant will always be on board the shuttle to provide assistance as needed.


Weather Conditions

One of the objectives of this trial is to learn about the performance of an automated vehicle in a range of weather conditions. The trial timeline from fall 2021 to February 2022 will enable us to assess the shuttle’s performance in a range of weather and road conditions.

Generally speaking, based on our current knowledge, the Olli 2.0 automated shuttle can operate in different weather conditions, including some snow conditions. Heavy rain, heavy snow, and fog all impact the effectiveness of the Lidar and radar systems, and temperatures below -10 C also impact the Lidar. Weather conditions will be monitored carefully and the shuttle may be taken out of service if weather conditions are deemed unsafe. The shuttle’s battery may also be impacted by cold temperatures. To mitigate this, the storage area for the vehicle is heated, however there may be limitations on the distance the shuttle can travel when temperatures drop below freezing.

Local Motors (the shuttle vendor) and AutoGuardian (the shuttle operator) are providing a service plan based on the vehicle’s capabilities to ensure safety is top priority in any weather conditions.

To select the preferred location, the City, TTC and Metrolinx began by developing selection criteria. They were:

  1. Route fills a current unmet need in the transit system
    • Outside of the existing TTC 400-metre service area
    • Close proximity to a major transit hub
  1. Route is able to meet the technological limitations of the anticipated shuttle technology
    • Acceptable grade, no rail crossings, pick-up/drop-off areas available, storage/charging areas available
    • Total route distance <5km (allows approximately 30-min headways with 1 shuttle)
    • Mixed-traffic environment with low traffic volume
  1. Route possesses preferred location characteristics
    • Identify whether in a Neighbourhood Improvement Area
    • Avoid School Zones
    • Ability to avoid or coordinate with planned capital projects/road works
    • Ability to clearly communicate to potential customers

Using these criteria, the team generated a list of potential locations within the City of Toronto and evaluated them against the criteria. West Rouge was the best candidate for meeting the project needs, and we hope residents will welcome this trial public service in their neighbourhood.

Project Rationale

Automated vehicles have the potential to reshape and define our transportation network, and the City, TTC and Metrolinx are already working together to plan and take action.

The project partners want to understand the value of an automated shuttle service in the transit and transportation system so that they can make decisions about the use of this and similar technologies in the future. The project partners also want to understand how users and community members respond to this type of service, and provide an opportunity for the public to learn more about automated vehicles.

There is no intention to make this project permanent or scale up the use of automated shuttles at this time.

The goal of this trial is to demonstrate the future opportunity for a safe, green, accessible and convenient transit technology to support local travel needs. It is an opportunity for Torontonians to experience first-hand how it feels to ride on an automated vehicle, and to interact with it on public roads. The partner agencies are learning a lot through this process that will help inform future planning for:

  • design and procurement of future partially or fully automated vehicles
  • designing neighbourhood-based transit services
  • road design, maintenance, signage and transportation policy to safely incorporate automated vehicle use in the City.

This shuttle trial is happening with approval of the Ontario Automated Vehicle Pilot program, administered by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Through this program, organizations can apply for a permit to test automated vehicles on Ontario public roads.


Defining Success

For the City of Toronto, TTC and Metrolinx, successful outcomes of the project include:

  • Developing a greater understanding of:
    • The automated shuttle technology and its application in “first-mile, last-mile” applications and other use cases,
    • The potential for integration of this type of service to fill gaps in the existing transit system, and
    • Whether this type of service could offer a benefit to customers in the long term.
  • Generating regular use of the shuttle by residents and gathering feedback on customer experiences
    Encouraging increased public awareness in the use of automation
    Making Toronto even more attractive for economic activity in the area of automated transit vehicle technology

We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on travel patterns, particularly the commute to work and the use of public transit. This impact will be taken into consideration when assessing the success of the shuttle trial. Regardless of the number of passengers, the project partners will still gain valuable insight into the technology and this potential use-case.


Funding

The trial is funded by a contribution from Transport Canada through the Program to Advance Connectivity and Automation in the Transportation System (ACATS), as well as funding from the City of Toronto. The project partners (City of Toronto, TTC and Metrolinx) are also contributing in-kind support, such as staff time and other resources.

Transport Canada is providing a contribution of $365,000 for service preparation, delivery and evaluation. Total value of the project including in-kind support is estimated to be $1.153 million.


Automated Shuttle Trial in Whitby

In Fall 2021, a similar shuttle trial began in the Town of Whitby. That trial uses a vehicle from the same manufacturer but with a somewhat different combination of navigation strategies. The West Rouge shuttle is offering transit service on a new route specific to the trial. The Whitby trial is running on an existing transit route.


Beyond the Trial

At this time, there is no intention to make this temporary trial permanent, nor to scale up automated shuttle services across the transit system without further analysis. During and after the trial, the City and its partners will conduct a full evaluation of the technology and its potential for integration into the transit system and other possible applications. This will include identifying future work and research that needs to be completed to continue preparing for this technology. More information on the City’s  Automated Vehicles Tactical Plan.

The City, TTC and Metrolinx have no intention of purchasing the shuttle vehicle.