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U.S. cities building on Las Vegas' success with autonomous buses

self-driving shuttle on Fremont Street in Las Vegas with passengers on board
A Navya Arma autonomous electric shuttle on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Photo: Jason Ogulnik/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Last November, Las Vegas launched an autonomous bus route along a tourist-heavy stretch of Fremont Street, sponsored by AAA and using a Navya AV operated by Keolis Transit.

Why it matters: Cities across America are beginning to test driverless buses — including pilots in Austin and Detroit — but Las Vegas was the first to deploy them on public streets in mixed traffic, and its program is now the largest AV bus pilot in the U.S. Other than a first day snafu, when another truck ran into the AV, the service has run safely and without incident.

The details: The AV shuttle is a free service for Las Vegas visitors and residents that provides transit between the Downtown Container Park and the Fremont Street Experience. Passengers traverse eight city intersections, six traffic lights, and two stop signs — all without a driver, though the bus does host an onboard "attendant" who acts as an ambassador, educating riders on how the AV technology works.

Since launch, the service has transported more than 35,000 passengers, helping to test the acceptance of AVs in public transit. Early signs are positive: It has earned a passenger rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars for its driving, according to Francis Julien at Keolis Transit.

What to watch: The next step in the evolution of the service is to ensure infrastructure can support the evolving operational capabilities of the AVespecially as service expands to more and longer routes — and to make the bus more accessible to people with disabilities.

Paul Comfort is vice president of business development at Trapeze Group and the former CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore.