Feds Order Company to Stop Shuttling Florida Kids to School in Autonomous Bus

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered a transit operator in Florida to immediately stop shuttling kids to school in what the agency described as a “driverless” shuttle, and said the company’s use of the vehicle as a school bus is “unlawful.”

The letter, issued on Friday to Transdev North America, directed the transit operator to stop transporting kids in the Southwest Florida community of Babcock Ranch on the company’s EZ10 Generation II driverless shuttle. In a press release, NHTSA said the company had received permission to temporarily import the driverless shuttle for testing and demos.

Specifically, NHTSA said that Transdev requested permission to use the shuttle for a demo project, “not as a school bus.”

“Transdev failed to disclose or receive approval for this use. School buses are subject to rigorous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that take into account their unique purpose of transporting children, a vulnerable population,” the agency said in a statement.

What’s strange is that Transdev certainly made its intention obvious to the public. In late August, the company and Babcock Ranch plainly stated that it would begin operating an autonomous school shuttle in the fall, “the first in the world.”

The 12-person shuttle picked up kids from a designated area and a safety attendant would always be on board, the statement says.

“Eventually, school shuttle service will be available to students and parents on demand, door to door, using an integrated app on their smartphones,” Transdev and the city said, making it clear as day that it would begin operating an autonomous school bus.

There’s a video accompanying the announcement:

And a news story:

 

Local newspaper coverage:

 

Autonomous vehicle definitions get confusing fast, and NHTSA describes this as a “driverless” shuttle. There’s a safety operator on board while students are riding to make sure everything’s running smoothly, but it’s probably a fair choice of words here. Transdev said in the release that the “route and operation will be fully autonomous.” The vehicle’s max speed is 8 mph.

Something about this strikes me as odd. If Transdev indeed failed to notify the agency about its plan to use this as a school shuttle, then why did NHTSA take nearly two months to act?

Nonetheless, NHTSA suggests Transdev copped to … something.

“Transdev has informed NHTSA that it will stop unapproved operations,” the agency said.

I asked Transdev for comment, and I’ll update the post if the company offers a response.

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