I'm not a huge fan of the transportation, or lack thereof, across ASU's Tempe campus.
Tempe is a giant campus, that much is obvious. Especially for me, as a downtown Phoenix student, an approximately 642-acre campus is just insane to imagine.
My longest commute on the Downtown Phoenix campus has been a 10-minute walk from Taylor Place, my dorm, to the Mercado complex. On the other hand, my friend Benicio De Puma's shortest commute last semester on the Tempe campus was a 15-minute dash from one end of campus to another in order to get from his dorm room to class.
And this commute had to happen rain or shine — or, to be more specific — in 100-degree weather, torrential downpour or whatever else Mother Nature decided to throw in his way.
So, when I saw that recently Stantec, a design and delivery firm focusing on transportation, buildings and community development, released the results of an automated shuttle feasibility study it conducted, I got excited. In the study, Stantec proposed a potential route for automated shuttles on the Tempe campus, which would help myriad people.
This study was created through and funded by Stantec's Greenlight program, a research and development fund that, according to its website, helps to support innovative ideas from employees in order to benefit their clients.
"We want to demonstrate that AV technology may provide a viable first-mile/last-mile shared micromobility solution that enhances established fixed-route transit. The potential service could also serve as a campus circulator," Frank Domingo, the senior project manager for Stantec Transportation, said in an email statement to The State Press.
According to Stantec's website, "One of (Stantec's) partners in this endeavor is Arizona State University (ASU), a founding partner of the Institute for Automated Mobility."
"An automated shuttle system is envisioned to provide an alternate mobility option at ASU's Tempe campus, strengthen their commitment to innovation, and further their pursuit of integrating automated vehicles," the website reads.
The study outlines a potential route that an automated shuttle would take, which starts at Gammage Auditorium and finishes right around the light rail station at University Drive and Rural Road.
"Regarding function, the operations (for previous AV shuttles) have been starting in dedicated paths that would transition to mixed traffic over time. Hours usually start as limited to daylight operations then transition to longer service hours," Domingo said.
Now, unfortunately, no concrete details beyond a potential route and potential schedule have been released as to what this shuttle could look like in practical terms. However, based on other Stantec projects that are further underway, there are demonstrations of what this shuttle could look like.
Regardless of the lack of concrete details, I think this is a step in the right direction.
A shuttle would help people like me who use the light rail in their commute fairly regularly. The walk from the station at Rural Road all the way to somewhere like Coor Hall can be a long one, so having a shuttle in place that could potentially run more regularly than the ASU shuttles' Gold Route would definitely be a bonus.
It would most definitely be helpful to people like De Puma, a freshman studying secondary education, who, instead of having to run from one end of campus to the other in the heat or rain, could instead take a shuttle that would conveniently drop him off where he needs to be.
"I'm at the San Pablo Residence Hall, it's on the northernmost edge of campus and I had to go to the southwesternmost point of campus," DePuma said. "For about the first month of school, mid-August to mid-September, it was pretty consistently 100 or above."
However, the group of people this would be most helpful to would be those who have disabilities that affect their mobility.
Fortunately, the University does already have the DART program in place to help students with situations like these. However, unfortunately, the DART program does have fairly limited hours, operating only on weekdays from 7:10 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. on the Tempe campus and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on all other campuses. Furthermore, if a student is consistently late for rides or misses rides for two consecutive days without calling to cancel, the student will lose access to DART. An automated shuttle like the one proposed by Stantec would likely not have these limitations.
Compared with the current programs in place, I'd say an automated shuttle would be an improvement.
Because the current situation around transportation isn't great, Stantec's automated shuttle plan is something the University should pursue vigorously should it want to remain "No. 1 in innovation."
Edited by Kate Duffy, Reagan Priest, Grace Copperthite and Greta Forslund.
Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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