A new driverless electric shuttle service to help disabled people get around the city centre could be trialled in York.
The city is bidding for £4m to trial a scheme that would help Blue Badge holders access pedestrianised streets – without having to drive into the city.
The futuristic proposals are part of West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Leeds City Region Future Mobility Zone plans – and could be a world first.
The bid says: “As part of the pilot proposed in York, we will trial and evaluate the role that automation can play in helping to reduce the longer term operating costs of demand responsive services, in this case through an electric, driverless solution.
“This unique proposal, targeted at customers with visible and hidden disabilities, will test for the first time automated solutions for these groups – learning that could be critical in addressing increasing Social Care and Special Education Needs transport in the future.”
A dedicated Park&Ride facility would see people park on the outskirts and instead use a “dedicated automated shuttle service in the pedestrianised streets of the city centre”.
More than 20,000 residents with Blue Badges would benefit – and many more visitors – according to the report.
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It says York has been chosen because it is a tourist city – meaning the shuttle service “will be seen by visitors to the UK, encouraging formation of a view that the UK is a leader in autonomous vehicle technology”.
Although the shuttles could be driverless, customer care assistants would accompany passengers.
James Gilchrist, assistant director for transport at City of York Council, said: “Our bid could create the opportunity for York to pioneer an innovative solution to support people with mobility issues in and around our historic and vibrant city.
“This involves trialling a new transport service for mobility impaired users, registered under the Blue Badge scheme. This proposal is only possible due to our city’s advanced digital infrastructure and our Smart Transport Programme.
“The proposal follows positive conversations at City Centre Access workshops, where the idea of an ‘on demand’ shuttle service from outside of the city centre was widely well received.”
“If successful, the council will work with blue badge holders to ensure we develop a service which meets the needs of those with both visible and hidden disabilities.”
The plans aim to improve air quality, traffic and accessibility.
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Jackie Chapman, of the York and District MS Society, said getting around the city is difficult if you are disabled – and said she has concerns about whether the shuttle could accommodate large wheelchairs.
She said: “It’s horrendous pushing a wheelchair in York because of the cobbles and narrow streets – wheelchairs are not sprung. I can understand what they are trying to do. It is a challenge in York.”
Jackie, who regularly helps people use disability vehicles, said she also has concerns over how the hoists and ramps will be used and the upkeep of accessible transport, which she says can be pricey.
The Future Mobility Zone (FMZ) bid says mobility hubs would be built at Marygate Car Park, the University of York and Piccadilly Car Park.
It adds: “York’s position as a tourist destination will not only raise the profile of the scheme and technology utilised, but the large visitor numbers will ensure significant numbers of users in the target demographic.
“The FMZ programme will benefit from a live trial of an automated vehicle service through a comprehensive evaluation of its effectiveness and interaction with a wide variety of groups in the community.
“The scheme will provide small, automated shuttles to operate a new service which will give mobility impaired people access to the heart of York’s pedestrian area.
“The proposed scheme, which is assessed to have costs of around £4m, is easily scalable, and additional routes or higher frequency services could be added if funding becomes available, or in response to high levels of demand.”
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