Council Members to Take Self-Driving Vehicles for a Spin

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Brooks is be a potential test site for autonomous shuttle travel. The City's innovation department is seeking funding to green-light the project.

Autonomous vehicles are coming to San Antonio, and a few members of City Council will be among the first to test them.

On Monday, the City Council’s Innovation and Technology Committee will convene its monthly meeting at the Southwest Research Institute, where researchers have been developing self-driving shuttles that the City is eyeing for potential use in the Brooks development, one of San Antonio’s three laboratories for new technologies.

The so-called innovation zone at Brooks – a former Air Force base in South San Antonio turned mixed-use development – could have autonomous shuttles busing residents from their homes to a VIA Metropolitan Transit station under development in the neighborhood.

The City applied in March for a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to help fund the effort.

“If that works out, we’ll have some money on hand,” said Brian Dillard, the City’s chief innovation officer. “If that doesn’t come back, then Brooks and my office are interested in exploring other funding options. We may be able to leverage funding among each other, but we might be able to leverage a public-private partnership.”

Brooks, which is often referred to as a city within a city, is a controlled environment perfect for hosting the kind of transportation experimentation the City and VIA are hoping to conduct, Dillard said.

“A campus like Brooks doesn’t come along that often – it’s a true mix of live, work, and play,” he said.

A senior living facility is under construction in the Brooks development. Dillard said the shuttle could help seniors who lack transportation access, low-income communities whose residents cannot afford a car, and people with disabilities. Riding the autonomous shuttles would be affordable, and a public subsidy could be offered to make it free for some riders, Dillard said.

The City’s innovation office will seek guidance from the committee on how to move forward with the potential autonomous vehicle project. The committee comprises Council members Manny Pelaez (D8), Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), Clayton Perry (D10), as well as citizen members Dirk Elmendorf, who co-founded Rackspace; Port San Antonio Vice President Will Garrett, director of cybersecurity development; and tech equity advocate DeAnne Cuellar.

The meeting will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at SwRI.

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