TAMPA, Fla. — The future is now in downtown Tampa as the area’s first self-driving shuttle has hit the road.

What You Need To Know

  • The free driverless shuttle is on a “virtual rail”

  • An official says it is safer than having a human driver

  • It has four stops between the TECO Line Streetcar and the Marion Transit Center

This new, all-electric vehicle is deployed by HART to see how it can fit into larger public transportation plans down the line.

“It’s been a longtime project for HART. It’s just a fabulous moment for us to see this live and up and running,” said Ruthie Reyes Burckard, HART’s deputy chief of Transportation.

This driverless shuttle is riding on what’s called a “virtual rail.” That means it is on a set route, like a street trolley would be.

Joe Moye, CEO of Beep, the company that programmed the vehicle, explains it’s actually safer without a human driver.

“If somebody were to step out in front of the vehicle, compared to the reaction time of a human, it’s literally 10 times faster as far as its ability perceive and react,” Moye said.

With several sensors made up of radar, lights and cameras, the shuttle knows when something is in front of it. It can safely stop or get around it.

During a demo ride for media, Beep employees showed how the shuttle can actually be controlled manually with an Xbox controller if needed!

But commuters will not ever need that as the “HART SMART AV” (Smart Mobility Alongside Regional Transit) is programmed to drive itself.

The pilot route goes along Marion Street in downtown Tampa. It has four stops between the TECO Line Streetcar and the Marion Transit Center.

And it is totally free to use.

“We hope that it will benefit all. Workers and visitors. We think that when your downtown workers are here, this is a great opportunity for them to get around in the morning,” Reyes Burckard said.

FDOT funded the project, to see how folks use it and to research if future driverless shuttles can be used to connect with other transportation in the Bay Area.

“Right now you have to get in your car to get around,” said David Gwynn, the FDOT District 7 secretary of Transportation. “These allow for transit opportunities for smaller vehicles to be used in areas where larger ones aren’t feasible but then tie into the larger networks.”

And get this: it costs just 30 bucks a month to charge it.

The pilot program will last a year, with the option of extending it another year.

The Phase 1 hours will be on Marion Street from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. every morning and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the afternoon. It is free of charge.