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PSTA launches self-driving shuttle in St. Petersburg

Margie Manning

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PSTA's all-electric shuttle, AVA, short for Autonomous Vehicle Advantage

AVA, a fare-free, all-electric autonomous vehicle, will start cruising Bayshore Drive in downtown St. Petersburg this week.

It’s one of the first times in Florida that an autonomous vehicle is sharing the road with cars, busses and other vehicles, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller said during a launch event Monday morning.

“We do have lots of traffic, lots of activity along this corridor, so it will be a great test of the technology,” Miller said.

PSTA partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation on the project, along with Beep, an autonomous mobility company in Orlando. Beep is the exclusive dealer and operator for autonomous vehicles made by NAVYA, a French company.

AVA uses technology such as LiDAR sensors and GPS tracking to navigate. The shuttle has no steering wheel or pedals and travels a pre-programmed route. There’s an onboard attendant who serves as an ambassador for the riders to learn more about the technology and the vehicle’s performance is monitored by an onboard shuttle specialist as well as Beep’s global command center in Orlando.

For the pilot program, AVA will operate on Bayshore Drive from the Vinoy Hotel to the Dali Museum from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays, beginning Wednesday, Nov. 25 and continuing through February 2021.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) was an early champion of the technology and views it as one of three megatrends in transportation.

“The world is getting more shared, it’s getting more electric and it’s getting more self-driving. Those three trends are represented in [AVA] and that will only grow over time,” Brandes said. “The fact that we have scooters in St. Pete, that we’re seeing more and more electric vehicle charging stations, that Uber and Lyft are thriving here, and now we have a self-driving shuttle just highlights the world of shared, electric and self-driving to come.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the autonomous vehicle pilot project fits with the city’s vision statement, which says the city will be innovative and creative.

Mayor Rick Kriseman said there are environmental benefits.

“These electric vehicles can go for nine hours on a full charge proving that smart transportation solutions can also be environmentally friendly, which fits perfectly with our city’s goal of reducing our carbon footprint and becoming 100 percent renewable by 2035,” Kriseman said.

Public officials on hand for the launch got to take some of the first rides on AVA.

AVA from St. Pete Catalyst on Vimeo.

AVA will operate at a maximum speed of 15 miles an hour. Riders will be required to wear a seatbelt and a face covering. The shuttle can transport up to 15 passengers, but capacity is limited to six passengers in the same party or four passengers in different parties during the Covid-19 pandemic. Disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer are on board. Click here for more rules of the road.

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