City of St. Petersburg launches driverless shuttles

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – People in the City of St. Petersburg now have a new form of transportation downtown, Ava, a driverless vehicle transportation system.

PSTA, the City and the Florida Department of Transportation officially rolled out AVA Monday, which stands for Autonomous Vehicle Advantage.

“What’s unique about what PSTA is doing is they’re the first actual transit authority to deploy these on mixed traffic roadways. So it’s not a fixed lane or a route if you will. It’s going to be interacting with vehicles, pedestrians, and the real-life situations,” said Beep Inc. CEO Joe Moye.

Eight cameras will help the shuttle navigate up and down Bayshore Drive as it connects passengers to the Downtown Looper and the Cross Bay Ferry with a co-pilot there in case there are any issues.

“They can react 10 times faster than a human can when they detect an obstacle. So the ability to kind of stop and start these vehicles and avoid any type of incident, look at it as 10 times faster than a human driven vehicle or 10 times safer in that regard,” said Moye.

The shuttle is an electric vehicle and is charged every night ready to run each day offering free rides, but space is limited. During the pandemic, Ava will take up to four people or six from the same group.

“It’s about getting people out of their cars giving people a new way of getting around, and doing so in a way that’s good for our environment. So this is very exciting and it really does fit with our cities vision being innovative and creative,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The shuttle runs Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and will be downtown for the next three months for the pilot to gather information about passengers’ experiences.

Mayor Kriseman said he hopes the city will embrace the technology.

“We hope to see this technology be very successful and more opportunities for people to ride it on a permanent basis be here,” Mayor Kriseman said.