In late 2021, New Jersey Department of Transportation launched the ‘Trenton MOVES‘ program, which is intended to bring a “safe, equitable, affordable, sustainable, and efficient on-demand automated vehicle mobility systems in and beyond Trenton, NJ.” Simply put, the idea is to have a fleet of self-driving taxis or transit shuttles that would complement the existing NJ Transit bus network, and extend high-quality transportation options to a city where many households have no access to a car. But does the technology even exist to provide self-driving transit? And would any companies be interested in serving a small city like Trenton? With the deadine for “expressions of interest” now past, we now know the answer. Yes, lots of companies are interested, and think it’s possible to operate self-driving taxis in Trenton.
Through an Open Public Records Request to New Jersey Department of Transportation, we have learned that no fewer than nineteen companies responded to express interest in partnering for the ‘Trenton MOVES’ program. At this time, we have only been able to obtain four of the expressions of interest, because each proposal must be vetted to remove proprietary information before it is released as a public record. But what we have seen so far is certainly interesting. Here are four companies who want to operate self-driving transit in Trenton, NJ:
Famous for their cellphone app that allows users to call a cab, Uber is also involved in the emerging business of ‘autonomous vehicles’. Through their partnership with Motional, Uber is now delivering takeaway food orders using self-driving cars in Santa Monica, CA (see photo at top). The service, which utilizes a fleet of Hyundai Ioniq5 electric vehicles, launched earlier this year. Uber’s response to the NJDOT “request for expressions of interest” is light on detail, but with “hundreds of millions” of global users, they are clearly a tech giant whose interest in the program could be important.
2. Luftcar, LLC
Unique among the responses released so far, Orlando FL-based Luftcar, LLC proposes a flying autonomous vehicle service (see image above). Powered by hydrogen, the advanced rotor-craft envisaged for this proposal would be 100% accessible for mobility-impaired users, and would zip between locations in Trenton through the air, emitting nothing but water vapor from the tailpipe. The two-page response to the request for expressions of interest is light on detail, and it’s not clear that the required vehicle has ever been tested, but this is an exciting prospect for residents of New Jersey’s capital city.
3. ADASTEC Corp
Ann Arbor MI-based ADASTEC Corp are notable because they actually have a real autonomous vehicle that is currently in testing at several sites globally. The Karsan E-Atak bus is an electric transit vehicle, equipped with multiple sensors, that operates on ADASTEC Corp’s proprietary ‘flowride.ai’ Level-4 Automated Bus Driving Platform. The system has already been deployed in Stavanger, Norway, in Châteauroux, France, and on campus roads in the University of Michigan. The buses are fully accessible, rated for all-weather conditions, and capable of operation to 37.4 mph. In the event of an emergency, the self-driving bus comes to a controlled stop and can be driven by a remote operator in a control center. The experience of ADASTEC Corp surely makes them a serious contender for the Trenton MOVES program.
4. Plenary / Parkway Autonomous
Plenary Americas LP describe themselves as “North America’s foremost leader in the development, financing and asset management of public infrastructure projects”. Owned by the public pension fund of the state of Quebec, they have delivered multiple, major transportation projects in Canada and Australia. For the Trenton MOVES proposal, they are partnering with startup Parkway Autonomous who have developed a ‘Connected Automated Vehicle’ (CAV) driving platform called a ‘CAVway™’. The sensor-packed, all-electric shuttles would use a network of local streets and transitways to navigate New Jersey’s capital. Different models would carry either 2-8 passengers, or 15-30 people depending on demand.
Plenary’s proposal is unusually detailed, and features technological advances such as ‘ultra-capacitors’ to enable ‘trickle’ charging and extend the operating cycle of the vehicles. Their draft route map incorporates the abandoned Reading Railroad right-of-way in the city, and transit corridors adjacent to the north-east corridor rail line. Perhaps most interestingly, they propose ‘micro-factory’ to actually build the transit vehicles in Trenton, in the spirit of the city’s “Trenton Makes” history. A very interesting proposal, although it’s not clear that the ‘CAVway’ has ever rolled in any city.
At this time, it is not clear what the next step will be in the Trenton MOVES program. The program was the subject of substantial discussion last week at the ‘Smart Driving Car’ Summit in Princeton, NJ. Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora seems enthusiastic about it, and Princeton U. Prof. Alain Kornhauser extended his decades-long enthusiasm about the coming dawn of self-driving vehicles. What NJDOT are proposing through the Trenton MOVES program is not total science fiction though. Earlier this month, Californian regulators gave GM-operated robotic taxi service Cruise the go-ahead to operate self-driving cabs in San Franscisco during the night. Given the level of enthusiasm among potential bidders, it is quite possible that the Trenton MOVES program could put Mercer County among the first movers in this space in the nation.
Any additional proposals for the Trenton MOVES program obtained by Walkable Princeton will be published later this year.