WHITE BEAR LAKE — The autonomous, driverless bus has arrived in a parking lot off Hwy. 61. When it will carry passengers depends on some sticky insurance issues.
"Insuring an automated vehicle in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, is not an easy thing," explained Mike Greenbaum, NewTrax executive director. The transportation company is tasked with overseeing the driverless shuttle that will provide mobility and amenities access to people who can't drive.
Insurance challenges stem from the fact companies have no experience with autonomous vehicles (AV), Greenbaum said.
The pilot project is expected to start once the liability issue is resolved, transporting people along a 1.5-mile route between PAI (Phoenix Alternatives) on Linden Avenue and the YMCA on Orchard Lane, stopping at The Boulders Senior Living along the way.
At this time, the AV is scheduled to run weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Note that the AV won't be completely driverless. A NewTrax employee will be on board. The vehicle can be operated manually using a joystick, if necessary. There is no steering wheel.
A member of the White Bear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce government affairs committee, Kevin Donovan, got a ride in the AV around the parking lot recently. "It was cool," he exclaimed. "It is the future."
The project is a collective effort by several entities, including the University of Minnesota, the city of White Bear Lake, the area Chamber of Commerce, Century College and the school district. School administrators are interested because of possible AV career pathways for students.
"Once this is on the road, we absolutely want the public to know what they're seeing on Orchard Lane," Greenbaum said. Consider this a heads-up before the launch. They're hoping for an early October start.
— Debra Neutkens