These Bellevue streets could have driver-free van pools driving on them later this year.
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These Bellevue streets could have driver-free van pools driving on them later this year.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Self-driving vehicles are coming to Bellevue. One reason? Safety

Kim Malcolm talks with Steve Marshall about Bellevue's plan to implement electric, self-driving van pools and shuttles. Marshall is transportation technology partnership manager for the city of Bellevue.

He says self-driving vehicles could be cruising Bellevue's roads later this year.

Why does Bellevue want self-driving van pools and shuttles?

Marshall: By 2030, we want no deaths and no serious injuries on roads in and around Bellevue. Frankly, we're not going to get there unless everyday vehicles becomes a lot smarter and a lot safer – with emergency braking and the other features that autonomous vehicles have.

The second benefit is being able to use the vehicles more efficiently. To be able to put more people into fewer vehicles, particularly at commute times to reduce traffic. And finally, it's to reduce emissions.

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Part of the goal here is to increase van pools in Bellevue. That could be done with human drivers. So why focus on self-driving vehicles?

We want the van pool system to be more flexible. Right now, we have a fixed van pool system where the same people come at the same time and go to the same employer. We want to figure out how to have more shared vehicles at times that are convenient for people to be able to get them into work at a time of their choosing, rather then a time that they’re tied do.

What are the first questions you have when it comes to safety and self-driving vehicles?

We want these vehicles to be tested, certified through a process, and have enough miles driven to be relatively sure that they're going to be able to prevent accidents.

Right now, most of these vehicles are in a learning mode. And when these van pools and shuttles are launched here, there will be safety drivers behind the wheel.

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Do you believe van pool riders will want to go driverless?

When elevators were first invented, people would refuse to take them. They would take the stairs instead. When they became automated, people wouldn’t ride an elevator that didn’t have an operator.

It took a little while for people to see the benefits and to be comfortable. I think that level of trust does have to happen. You had to have a period of time where people who want to take this, can. And people who don’t want to, don’t have to.