Yellowstone National Park plans test of self-driving shuttles to ease traffic jams

Autonomous vehicle company Beep is planning a spring 2021 launch to test new shuttle service in the park's Canyon Village.


The mobility-as-a-service company Beep will be testing autonomous vehicles in Yellowstone National Park's Canyon Village in spring 2021.

Image: raksyBH/Getty/iStock

An autonomous vehicle company that has been working in Central Florida will deploy shuttles in Yellowstone National Park in spring 2021.

Beep will test its electric AV shuttles in Yellowstone to support the National Park Service's goal of reducing the environmental impact of visitors while still keeping the park accessible to the public. Traffic in the park has gone up almost 40% over the last 12 years. This caused traffic jams, erosion, damage to vegetation, and trash problems at busy restrooms. The park service is looking at alternatives to private vehicles to solve these problems.

Joe Moye, Beep CEO, said in a press release that Yellowstone's Visitor Use Management Program aligns with Beep's mission to provide alternative, sustainable, and innovative transportation solutions meant to improve mobility. 

"This demonstration will help assess how emerging technologies can enhance the visitor experience while making the roads safer and less congested for everyone," he said.

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free Pdf) (TechRepublic)

Beep will operate two autonomous shuttles in the Canyon Village. The low-speed shuttle will serve the campground, visitor services, and visitor lodging area. Beep will work with the park services to set the route locations and stops. A Beep employee will be on each shuttle. 

The mobility-as-a-service company has a few years of experience with pilot projects in Florida communities, including Lake Nona. Over the last year, the company has built three routes in this 17-square-mile planned community that includes housing, retail stores, restaurants recreational opportunities, and medical services. Each route connects different parts of the community and tests different use cases. Since September 2019, the Beep shuttles have transported 16,000 passengers. These rides replace about 9,400 car trips, according to the company, which also reduces carbon emissions. 

Beep also provides shuttles on the Mayo Clinic campus in Jacksonville. The company is working with Jacksonville to test AVs in other city settings as well.

Beep is the first AV company participating in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's AV TEST initiative launched this fall. This project provides information about where and how autonomous vehicles are being tested.

COVID-19 and autonomous vehicles

The global uncertainty caused by the coronavirus has slowed progress in the AV industry, as law firm Foley and Lardner LLP noted in a recent post, "Top Impacts of the Pandemic on Autonomous Vehicle Research and Development." Companies have laid off employees, slowed production, and even suspended testing and deployment work. 

The AV industry could see benefits long term, however, as cities need to change how public transportation works to benefit residents and to reduce exposure to front-line employees who operate buses and shuttles. AVs could deliver groceries and testing supplies to support social distancing goals. 

In a report called "The impact of COVID-19 on future mobility solutions," McKinsey analysts suggest that the pandemic may speed up the adoption of AVs in Europe but slow down the transition in the US. Trends in North America including easing fuel economy regulations and consumer preference for private transportation are the biggest drivers behind this. The analysts suggest that it will be 2025 before market forces shift to favor AVs.

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By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...