County to test electric shuttle on greenway

A passenger departs after a ride on the EZ10 shuttle in January on Nicollet Mall. Photo courtesy Hennepin County

Hennepin County is planning a demonstration of an all-electric shuttle that’s capable of operating without a human operator.

The county is planning to test the EZ10 shuttle April 20–22 on the Midtown Greenway between Hennepin and Lyndale avenues. The shuttle can go up to 25 miles per hour, can accommodate up to 12 passengers and meets Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

John Doan of the county’s Community Works initiative said the shuttles have logged over 75,000 operating miles around the world without any major safety incidents.

The test will come as the county continues to invest in mass transit systems, such as the planned Orange Line bus-rapid transit and Southwest Light Rail Transit lines. It also will come as the county works toward its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the number of vehicle miles traveled.

Driverless shuttles could connect more people to mass transit by picking them up and dropping them off closer to their homes, Doan said. That, in turn, could help reduce car trips and greenhouse gas emissions.

Doan said people are generally willing to walk a quarter of a mile or bike half a mile to access transit. But that “walkshed” or “bikeshed” can shrink quite a bit when it’s raining or cold outside, he said.

The driverless shuttles could give riders a closer access point to transit, Doan said.

“It creates all of a sudden the opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access transit and the transit stations to be able to access it,” he said.

The east-west Midtown Greenway could be a candidate for such a shuttle system. Doan noted its connection to the future Southwest light rail and Orange Line as well as the existing the Blue Line light rail to the east.

Having a shuttle along the greenway could allow riders to go east and west without going through downtown Minneapolis, Doan said.

In the suburbs, SouthWest Transit offers a first- and last-mile connection service called Southwest Prime. For $4 per person, riders can receive curb-to-curb service within Eden Prairie, Chaska, Chanhassen and Carver.

SouthWest Transit CEO Len Simich said the goal is to get to riders within 20 minutes. Over 300 people a day use Prime, he said, adding that SouthWest Transit has been able to reduce labor costs compared to the dial-a-ride service it used to run.

Prime runs Monday through Friday and provides a connection on Saturday to Southdale Center. SouthWest is looking at electric vehicles for the year-and-a-half-old service, Simich said, adding that Prime provides the flexibility that’s required for workers in the area’s industrial parks.

He said SouthWest is also looking at doing a demonstration of the driverless shuttle technology.

Hennepin County will use human operators for its demonstration. The county will lease the shuttle from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which has been testing it over the past few months.

The demonstration is projected to cost around $25,000, Doan told the County Board.