Yellowstone National Park Announces Plans to Test First Autonomous Electric Shuttles

by Robert Davis

Yellowstone National Park announced exciting new plans to test its first autonomous electric shuttle system this week.

The Electric Driverless Demonstration in Yellowstone (TEDDY) will serve visitors until August 31. TEDDY is free to use and will operate seven days per week on two different routes.

“We’re very pleased to participate in this shuttle pilot and test this evolving technology,” Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.

Beep, Inc. supplied the vehicles for the pilot program. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) selected Beep to partner with the National Parks Service (NPS) in July 2020, according to the NPS website.

The primary goal of the program is to collect data, Sholly added. Park management is responsible for regularly monitoring shuttle and environmental conditions. In turn, Sholly says the data will help forge the park’s long-term transportation plan.

“Shuttles will unquestionably play a key role in helping achieve these goals in many of the busiest areas of the park,” he said.

Yellowstone Visitation

Yellowstone decided to experiment with autonomous shuttles because of an uptick in visitors. In 2019, it was the fourth-most visited park in the country and welcomed over four million visitors.

Similarly, the park’s remoteness presents an opportunity to find alternative mobility solutions. The park itself is also hours from local hospitals. Oftentimes, rescuers take just as long to reach wounded or injured visitors.

Rider Safety

NPS said there will be several weeks of testing prior to launching the program. Data collected during that time will inform changes to ensure rider safety.

NPS requires Beep to report certain safety data as well. Some examples include all data tied to ridership, departure times, route performance, and battery performance.

Beep immediately reports all accidents and near misses to local law enforcement officers and the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To keep riders safe on each ride, TEDDY comes equipped with an onboard attendant. This person’s primary responsibility is rider safety, according to the NPS website.

TEDDY requires its riders to follow COVID-19 protocols while onboard. These include practicing social distancing, wearing facial coverings, and using hand sanitizer before entering the shuttle.

NPS immediately removes any shuttles from service that have attendants who are diagnosed with COVID-19. A third party then decontaminates the shuttles before they return to the park.

Measuring Yellowstone’s Success

There are three benchmarks for the program’s success: safety, data collection, and transparency.

First and foremost, NPS said the program must be safe for riders. The agency expects the real-time data collected during the pilot to ensure this goal is met.

Second, the data collected will inform future transportation plans at the park. Some examples of data collected include speeds, stop times, and attendant overrides.

Lastly, NPS is looking at regulatory and policy roadblocks that need to be addressed. NPS said it will address these issues more holistically once the pilot is complete.