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Agency Shuts Down Self-Driving Shuttles After Linden Incident

Brent Warren Brent Warren Agency Shuts Down Self-Driving Shuttles After Linden IncidentThe shuttle operating in Linden earlier this month. Photos by Susan Post.
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Editor’s Note (2/27/20, 9:43 a.m.): this article was updated to include more information from Smart Columbus.

A February 20 incident in which a self-driving shuttle in Linden stopped suddenly has led to the vehicles being taken off the road, not only in Columbus but in 15 other cities around the country.

Two shuttles began running in the neighborhood on February 5, operating autonomously but with an operator on board the vehicle at all times. The shuttle vehicles used in Linden are made by the French company EasyMile (the city’s first driverless shuttle operated Downtown and featured vehicles made by Michigan-based May Mobility).

The shuttles have not operated in Linden since the incident, in which one passenger was apparently hurt when the vehicle stopped suddenly. A video of the incident posted by WSYX shows a woman falling off of the vehicle’s bench and onto the floor.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced yesterday that it was not allowing the vehicles to operate with passengers anywhere in the country, “pending an examination of safety issues related to both vehicle technology and operations.”

“The action comes after an apparent unexplained braking incident in which one passenger was reportedly hurt,” the agency statement said. “NHTSA will continue to work with all affected parties, including EasyMile and local authorities, to evaluate potential future vehicle operations, consistent with applicable legal requirements and public safety.” 

Alyssa Chenault of Smart Columbus said that they are working with EasyMile “to determine the cause of the sudden stop,” and that “we hope that have the determination this week.”

“Once we do, we’ll share the information with NHTSA and they will indicate next steps that need to take place,” she added. “Once NHTSA has given approval and the City of Columbus is comfortable with the resolution, we’ll take steps to get the Linden LEAP back in service.”

John Samuelsen, International President of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), used the NHTSA announcement as an opportunity to criticize the Linden program, sending out the following statement;

This technology is a danger to transport workers and to the general public. The City of Columbus should not trust the safety of transit riders to heartless robots. Rather than treating the residents of Linden like guinea pigs, we need to ensure access to safe public transportation with trained professional operators in control before more people get hurt.

EasyMile, on the other hand, downplayed the significance of the incident, explaining that the vehicle was operating at a low speed (7.1 miles per hour), and “made an emergency stop as it is programmed to do.”

The company is “running test loops on the ground for further analysis into the suddenness of the stop,” the statement continued. “We also train our Customer Service Ambassadors to remind passengers to hold on when the vehicle is in motion and place signage in the shuttles to the same effect.”

A sign showing the route and hours of operation for the shuttle.
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