May 18, 2017 11:12 am
Updated: May 22, 2017 1:34 pm

Researcher warns Calgary city council self-driving cars could make LRT obsolete

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As the City of Calgary gets set to move ahead with the Green Line LRT project, one researcher is questioning the need for this costly transportation infrastructure with the age of autonomous vehicles on the horizon.

Peter McCaffrey, director of research with the Manning Centre, told the city’s transportation and transit committee Wednesday that he wonders about the benefits of moving ahead with a $4.65-billion dollar LRT project.

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“Today, council got a report that’s talking about some of the future technologies coming along with autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing that I think will make the Green Line kind of irrelevant,” McCaffrey said.

He said some private sector consulting groups are projecting that autonomous vehicle technology will bring the cost of private transportation and private vehicle driving down below the cost of public transit and the LRT.

Ward 12 Councillor Shane Keating said while that may be true, right now Calgary needs the Green Line.

“When we get vehicles flying in the air, then we probably won’t need things like the Green Line. But, until that actually happens, and until we get to the Jetsons’ hovercraft that can go anywhere, we still have a determination by finite space, and that’s what we have to overcome,”  Keating explained.

City councillors heard about a future with autonomous vehicles, aerial delivery drones as well as connectivity of more and more devices on the internet.

Keating said the city needs to stay on top of this evolving technology.

“If we don’t take into account many of the possibilities for the future, then yeah, we could be planning incorrectly today.”

The committee asked council to approve Calgary’s participation in a University of Alberta pilot project involving a low-speed autonomous vehicle.

The shuttle would take people from the Calgary Zoo LRT to the Telus Spark science centre.

READ MORE: Driverless shuttle could operate in Calgary if pilot project approved by councillors

The trial, if approved by council, would run for two to four weeks next year.

Transportation general manager Mac Logan told the committee that Calgary should be allowing the testing of this type of vehicle.

“It is a very low investment on the city’s behalf, to be bold and allow testing on our road network. It’s a great opportunity,” Logan said.

With files from Aurelio Perri

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