North Carolina has distinctive transportation challenges and needs. Conventional fixed-route transit may not effectively meet sporadic transportation demands over large geographic areas with low population densities. Microtransit service can address this challenge in low-demand rural areas by providing more efficient and customer-focused transportation services via flexible routing and scheduling while reducing the transportation cost due to smaller sizes of vehicles and the adoption of ridesharing strategies. Several communities in North Carolina have started microtransit pilot programs such as the GoWake SmartRide NE, Wilson RIDE, and RideMICRO in the Wilmington area. In parallel, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has piloted shared autonomous vehicles in transit applications through the Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation (CASSI) program.
Along with these efforts, NCDOT has sponsored the research project, RP 2022-16 - “Developing and Operationalizing a Testbed of Connected Self-driving Shuttles to Test and Develop CAV applications in North Carolina". The developed Connected Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) testbed consists of three Polaris GEM E6 low-speed vehicles that are outfitted with autonomous vehicle technology and are being tested individually on a test track at NC A&T State University (NC A&T)'s Gateway Research Park. Leveraging the efforts under NCDOT RP 2022-16, this project will pilot the autonomy-enabled Polaris GEM E6 vehicles in a microtransit service on a route that connects NC A&T's campus to downtown Greensboro. This will be achieved through: (1) Identifying the appropriate route and safe stops in coordination with stakeholders, (2) Developing the in-vehicle data collection systems and surveys to assess the acceptability of the Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and public perception of AVs, (3) Developing communication systems to connect AVs to a control room, to the cloud, and to the users, (4) Developing a user-friendly application software for users to request a ride and track the vehicles, (5) Building a map and address the technical challenges for deployment of vehicles throughout the identified route, (6) Actual deployment of the autonomous vehicles between NC A&T's campus and downtown Greensboro, and (7) Analyzing and reporting the collected data and the deployment process.