Could self-driving vehicles be a part of Valdosta’s future public transit?

13 students were involved in a survey to see the communities interest in self-driving cars.
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 10:34 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - One South Georgia university is doing research that could potentially benefit the city and its residents.

Valdosta launched its Valdosta On-Demand public transit ride-share service in April 2021. Every year since then, demand has increased. An increase so big, that Valdosta State University (VSU) and the city studied the future use of self-driving vehicles in public transit.

“In order to increase a capacity of service but not increase the budget cost, this is a project trying to address that issue. To use autonomous vehicles to provide a safer transportation, without increasing the budget,” Jia Lu, a geology professor at Valdosta State University who led the study, said.

13 Urban Community Planning students at VSU made a 30-question survey asking people how they felt about these vehicles being used for public transit.

“Over half the people wanted to see autonomous vehicles in public transit,” Lu said. “Comparing to people driving, the autonomous vehicle in general has much better security and safety records.”

Jia Lu is the geology course professor who led the course.
Jia Lu is the geology course professor who led the course.(Source: WALB)

Valdosta On-Demand does, on average, 500 rides a day. But research shows demand is more like 1,000 rides a day.

“We get 10,000 rides a month. And they just came and made a presentation about two months ago that the demand is there for 20,000,” Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson said. “We have to figure out extra funding. We’re hitting our head on the ceiling of what we can afford. You save me money on what it cost to put a driver, his benefits and his pay in there, I’ll pour it back into the system.”

Over 90% of participants believe that Valdosta could benefit from autonomous vehicles in the future.

“With technology improving, we think this will be our future. Because it will cut the cost for labor, and also improve security, providing a much more efficient service,” Lu said.

Valdosta has already taken one step towards the future of having autonomous vehicles within the city.

“What they did was also in conjunction with our expansion within our traffic management system. By syncing all 128 lights, that’s the identifier for those vehicles,” Mayor Matheson said. “It’s not restricted to any side of town, the dots for pickup and delivery are absolutely everywhere in the city of Valdosta. So yes, with that growth, comes our growth.”

The survey had over 300 responses. Over 85% of people say they would pay $1 to $8 per ride for self-driving vehicles in Valdosta, which is higher than the $2 they’re paying now.

“They do have a few accidents from what we saw right now, however, the ratio of the mileage comparing to the accidents is much lower. That way we can serve Valdosta much better,” Lu said.

Matheson didn’t say for sure if these self-driving vehicles would be coming to town. But he says it does sound like it could benefit the city.