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Yellowstone prepares to test automated shuttles

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (KIFI) - Yellowstone National Park and Wright Brothers National Park will become the first two parks to test automated vehicle shuttle technology in national parks.

On Tuesday, April 20, the National Park Service and the North Carolina Department of Transportation launched the first self-driving vehicle to be tested at a recreational public lands site in the nation. 

The three-month pilot program will help the Park Service learn more about how driverless vehicles can be safely and effectively used in the future.

In May, the Park Service will launch a pilot at Yellowstone to test low-speed, automated vehicle shuttle technology within the Canyon Village Campground, visitor services, and adjoining visitor lodging area.

Park officials said the goal is to understand how AV shuttle technology can be used in the parks and how visitors perceive and engage them. The data will help guide long-term management decisions regarding national park transportation.

The pilot project will help inform considerations for emerging technologies throughout the park system. If successful, it could be used to improve visitor access and experience.  

Two route schedules have been planned.  

May 24–July 12, the shuttle will run the hotel to visitor services route. July 13 is a changeover day, meaning no service. July 14–August 31, the shuttle will run between the campground and visitor services. 

“Beep, Inc.” was selected to operate the pilot project in June 2020. 

Yellowstone was the sixth most visited national park in 2019.   Because of its remoteness and popularity, the Park Service selected Yellowstone to advance emerging mobility and transportation plans.

Park officials said there would be several weeks of testing onsite before the project is launched. All park-wide first responders will be trained on operations related to the project.  

Beep Inc. will report all data tied to ridership, departure times, route performance and battery performance to the Park Service. All crashes will also be reported.  Before any work begins, the company must ensure they have insurance to operate in Wyoming covering each vehicle and its operator.

The project is being funded as part of the Federal Lands Transportation Program in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration. A primary goal is to understand how the technology operates in the parks. 

Officials will be collecting data about ridership, speeds, stop times, and attendant overrides. That information will help inform the next steps and overall consideration of emergency transportation technologies, as well as limitations and future policy and regulatory needs. 

Each shuttle will have its own on-board attendant who will monitor safety and can take over shuttle operation at any time.

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