Rhode Island DoT Looks to Spur Autonomous Transit Development

America’s smallest state has big plans for a future with autonomous transit options, with Rhode Island ready to accept proposals from companies to test and deliver autonomous vehicle services to connect downtown Providence and the surrounding area.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDoT) selected the densely populated neighborhoods within the Woonasquatucket River Corridor as a potential location for the introduction of highly automated or fully autonomous vehicles to fill the existing transportation gap between Olneyville and downtown.

Known as the Transportation Innovation Partnership (TRIP) Mobility Challenge, this effort would involve the creation of a public-private partnership.

“The idea is eventually, this kind of technology is going to help us reduce congestion and reduce air pollution,” RIDoT director Peter Alviti told WPRI News. “Ultimately, it will be safer because it will take a lot of the operator error out of driving.”

The company selected as part of the request-for-proposals process would work with RIDoT to identify and propose a route and schedule of operations, and plan, design, test and operate a pilot mobility service.

“It’s not just a pilot to see how the thing works,” Alviti added. “It’s a pilot to see how it’s going to change our transportation, our economy and our social structure.”

Proposals are due in mid-summer, and RIDoT will review and award a contract in the fall, and initial testing of a pilot mobility service could occur as soon as the end of the year.

“It will be on a dedicated route,” Alviti explained. “It will be tested at a very safe site, probably around the Quonset Point facilities that we have, and until we’re sure it can be introduced into the regular roadway.”

In addition, the RIDoT announced that its partners plan to form a research team drawing from a range of local institutions of higher education, the continuation of an effort the department kicked off last year at the TRIP Expo at the New England Institute of Technology.

Little Rhody joins neighboring New England states Connecticut and Massachusetts in the race to develop autonomous vehicles. In April Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy helped launch the state’s Fully Autonomous Vehicle Testing Pilot Program (FAVTPP).

The FAVTPP is an initiative created by legislation Malloy signed into law last year, and includes strict standards on testing, with limited and controlled testing areas.

Under terms of the program, towns and cities interested in allowing the testing of fully autonomous vehicles can submit an application to the state, which has decided to allow up to four municipalities to participate.

In February, Massachusetts held a statehouse briefing on autonomous vehicles to explore the concerns and benefits of introducing self-driving vehicles to the state’s roads.

On the other side of the country, Arizona and California are already conducting advanced testing of AVs, while Ford has set up shop on Miami Beach, and a bill moving through the Utah legislature would legalize self-driving cars across the state and set up licensing, registration and insurance rules for them.

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