ROCHESTER, Minn. – Drivers are being asked to take extra care near the Med City Mover shuttles in downtown Rochester.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) says after two months of operation, shuttle operators are reporting worrisome driver behavior that has led to several closed calls.
The Med City Mover shuttles are part of the first automated vehicle pilot project to travel Minnesota streets. MnDOT’s Connected and Automated Vehicles team and its partners are gathering data and user-experience information during the year-long project to help prepare for the safe and expanded use of this technology.
“Just like we do with snowplows during winter months, we’re encouraging drivers to use extra caution when driving around automated vehicles,” says Tara Olds, interim director of MnDOT’s CAV program. “Automated vehicles operate differently than other vehicles, and it’s important for all of us to learn new skills to travel safely together.”
The two low-speed Med City Mover shuttles are driverless but an attendant is always on board to verify the safe operation of the vehicle and aid passengers as needed. MnDOT says the shuttles have provided more than 800 rides since service began in August.
Operators are saying some drivers have cut closely in front of the shuttles causing emergency stops and concern for safety. Other vehicles have made illegal turns around the shuttles, putting riders and pedestrians at risk along the 1.5-mile route downtown.
MnDOT says the automated shuttles are programmed to follow every rule of the road, slowing to stop when traffic lights are yellow, waiting for all pedestrians to cross the street before turning, and never making turns until a traffic light allows.
The Med City Mover shuttles travel six blocks south on Broadway, three blocks west on 6th St. SW, six blocks north on Third St. SW and three blocks east on West Center Street. The planned hours of operation for the Med City Mover shuttles are Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, except holidays, now through August 2022. The vehicles travel up to 15-miles per hour, making two stops along the route.
Mike Dougherty, MNDOT spokesperson says the shuttles are programmed to follow all of the rules of the road.
“There's no wiggle room there, if there's somebody in the crosswalk, they're stopped, if there's something up ahead, they'll slow down for it.”
The city-wide speed limit is 25 unless posted otherwise.
Dougherty says the shuttle travels up to 15 mph. “The shuttle speed is not that drastically different, especially at these slower speeds so I think that's something for people to adjust to as well. It might be going slow for a minute, but they're not going to be stuck behind it for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles,” he adds.
The pilot project to see how the technology functions and how people react is expected to run until August.
It is a chance for Rochester to shape this technology as it becomes more prevalent.
Dougherty says there have been no crashes or shuttle-related incidents reported so far.
Safe driving recommendations include:
Stay alert for the automated shuttles, which travel slowly and abide by all traffic laws. The shuttles will yield during right turns if a pedestrian is anywhere in the crosswalk.
Allow more space between yourself and the automated shuttles. Don’t cut in front of an automated shuttle as this may cause it to emergency stop. Stay behind the shuttle when it is turning.
Drive at a safe speed for current conditions.
Don’t drive distracted.
Visit their website for more info on the self-automated shuttles.