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USF driving toward on-campus driverless shuttles

USF partnered with the Hillsborough Metropolitan Organization to work on bringing driverless shuttles to campus, but students do not want to pay for it, according to surveys. ORACLE FILE PHOTO.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Organization (MPO) and USF partnered to research vehicle automation that would bring driverless shuttles to campus. The goal is to have two $700,000 driverless shuttles on campus by fall 2019.

However, senior researcher Brian Pessaro is running into one issue: Students do not want to pay for it.

Paper surveys were taken in classrooms, along with two online surveys, which were distributed by Student Government and Students with Disabilities Services (SDS). Students were asked if they would be willing to pay an additional fee for the shuttles. The answer was no.

Pessaro said he still hopes to secure funding to carry out the 12-month on-campus demonstration for the shuttles.

MPO funded the study about a year ago, according to Pessaro, and he was able to start conducting research for the shuttles. He eliminated possibilities of any legal or insurance restrictions in operating the vehicles on campus.

Through the research study, Pessaro said potential routes of the 15-passenger shuttles would be from Lot 18 to the Library, Juniper-Poplar to Campus Recreation, Juniper-Popular to The Hub and Juniper-Poplar to the Library.

Based on the 374 surveys collected, students requested that the shuttles accommodate people who were walking on campus at night.

Pessaro said the late-night use would supplement the number of rides SAFE Team — the nighttime safety escort service — would have to provide. All the shuttles, whether they are operating during the day or at night, would have a safety attendee on board.

Pessaro said the shuttles could increase mobility for SDS since the shuttles have ramps and could accommodate wheelchairs.

The surveys were also used to evaluate how students would react to the vehicles. Pessaro said it would become an extra transportation service like the USF Bull Runner, which is a fare-free shuttle service provided for USF students.

One-third of students in the surveys said the shuttles would benefit them because of the difficulty in finding parking, according to Pessaro.

Pessaro said he is looking at other options, such as the USF Student Green Energy Fund (SGEF), which is funded through the semesterly $1-per-credit-hour student fee. He said he is also looking to obtain grants through the Federal Transit Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation.

The University of Florida started working on a similar shuttle project a few months ago, with transports from downtown Gainesville to the UF campus. However, it is not equipped to carry passengers yet. The University of Michigan also has a shuttle project, but neither universities have collected adequate data thus far, according to Pessaro.

Pessaro said he wants to bring the shuttles to campus so he can gather more student opinion and further his work on the project.

“We want to see what the limitations to the technology are since there is so much that we don’t know,” Pessaro said. “(The shuttles) are so new that we are not going to know what the capabilities are until we actually get it on campus and operate it.”