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JTA locks in deadline for self-driving city vehicles after self-driving shuttle debut

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Transportation Authority just rolled out a pair of new shuttles, but with no driver. The self-driving shuttles will serve the students at the Florida State College of Jacksonville’s downtown campus for the next five months.

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JTA says it’s part of a pilot program testing and launching autonomous vehicles in Jacksonville. The program at FSCJ, which includes a $322,000 budget funded through JTA, is one of multiple stops on JTA’s plan to launch self-driving vehicles in downtown Jacksonville next year.

We’re told JTA is expecting to break ground on its Bay Street project in the next 60 days.

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It’s being done in a partnership with a company called “Beep,” a Florida-based self-driving vehicle provider that’s helped launch similar programs in multiple cities in the southeast.

“A change is coming to public transportation in our country,” says Nat Ford, CEO of JTA, “and that change is starting here in Jacksonville, Florida.”

The program at FSCJ is expected to last five months, but next year, JTA plans to bring self-driving vehicles to Bay Street downtown. Tuesday afternoon, JTA told Action News Jax it’s confident in meeting its 2025 deadline.

RELATED: Take an exclusive look at larger prototype for JTA’s autonomous shuttle service coming in 2025

“It’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when’ on this autonomous vehicle technology,” Ford says.

But this isn’t the first program like this found in Florida. One of Orlando’s self-driving shuttles was involved in a crash with a bus back in December. The incident suspended the service, which was also rolled out by the Beep company, just months after it was deployed in the city.

“Ironically, human error was involved in that,” says Joe Moye, CEO of Beep.

When JTA launches its self-driving vehicles along Bay Street next year, Moye says avoiding a similar start means keeping people out of the driver’s seat, instead focusing on improving the tech inside.

RELATED: JTA introduces self-driving vehicles to FSCJ downtown campus

“We need to, frankly, advance the technologies and take the human out of the equation,” says Moye.

FSCJ leaders say they hope to partner with JTA to launch self-driving shuttles on its other campuses around the city.

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JTA tells Action News Jax it won’t use the same model of self-driving vehicle on FSCJ’s campus for its downtown project, but the software inside will be the same. JTA says it’s turned in designs for those self-driving vehicles and is waiting on approval from the city.

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