There could soon be more than just bikers, runners and walkers on the Okanagan Rail Trail, and it all depends on the results survey being conducted by UBC Okanagan students and the City of Kelowna.
“If you take a look into the Rail Trail, it connects some of the major destinations in the city. So, for example, starting from the downtown of Kelowna to the airport which is expanding and it also connects the UBCO which has had tremendous growth,” said Mahmudur Fatmi, UBC Integrated Transport Research Lab director.
Fatmi has enlisted his engineering students to work on the project. If their research comes back saying that there is a need for more public transportation in the city and that users of the rail trail are in favour, autonomous buses that were tested in Calgary, Montreal and around the world could be the newest travellers on the Okanagan Rail Trail.
“This project has multiple objectives,” said Fatmi. “One of the first ones we are right now doing is collecting data from folks who are using the Rail Trail and then there’ll be another survey where we collect data from… the neighbourhoods. (When) we understand what their preference towards using this service … then we’ll use that data to do some modelling to predict what could be the demand in future of such service along this corridor and its impact of the overall transportation network at the city.”
The possible environmental impacts as well as how the service would work alongside current users of the Rail Trail will also be looked at, Fatmi says. The service would not be taking existing space away from current users but instead, would run alongside the existing area.
To move forward, they need the public to continue filling out the surveys. UBCO Students have been set up along the rail trail to make it easier.
“We’re collecting data at this stage along the Okanagan Rail Trail at eight locations over a two-week period from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and we end this Thursday, so if anyone sees us, feel free to reach out to us and fill out the survey and let us know what they think about the service on the Rail Trail,” said Fatmi.
If all goes according to plan, the autonomous vehicles will be helping commuters travel from the Kelowna International Airport to downtown and everywhere in between in the years to come.