Traffic in much of Western Washington has grown from bad to worse to intolerable. Increasingly more people live in far-out and low-density areas that are underserved or unserved by public transportation, which means more single-occupancy vehicles are on the road every day, adding time to everyone’s daily commute.
Many areas have plans in place to try to help alleviate some of the commute problems, including Kirkland and Bellevue, which are jointly developing a plan called CommutePool. The program, which submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation, is structured around the use of electric, autonomous vehicles that can bring multiple people to the office every day. Initially, this will be facilitated by aggregating people going to the same office into vans together; ultimately, the City of Bellevue plans to have designated drop-off areas located near multiple offices so that employees from different companies can conveniently ride together as well.
“(CommutePool) is using advanced transportation technology — electric autonomous vehicles connected to an app and connected to each other — and is designed to help reduce congestion by getting more people into fewer vehicles,” said Steve Marshall, Bellevue’s transportation technology partnership manager. “We’re thinking that we’re on the cutting edge of something that can complement our existing transit system.”
Marshall has focused on partnering with large Eastside businesses — including Kemper Development, Bellevue School District, and Overlake Medical Center — which would help employees avoid a commute and help companies avoid enormous parking expenses. CommutePool also plans to partner with Amazon, which has agreed to develop the app that would pair with the program. Autonomous vehicles manufactured by Google, GM, and Ford also are being investigated as potential candidates for the ridesharing program.
Marshall emphasized that his number-one priority is safety and that all technology will be triple-checked before hitting the road.
A safety driver also will be in autonomous vehicles for the first year or more of the program, which is set to launch in the spring. Marshall hopes to get the $3 million grant from USDOT in mid-October, but he said that there is a possibility that, with such huge support from large employers, the program could move forward even without the grant.
CommutePool, which would be the first of its kind in the country, will ensure that people have affordable and convenient access to jobs, regardless of where they live.
“We’re hoping to do a lot of great things with (CommutePool),” said Marshall. “We want to help the environment, reduce congestion, make more people want to come work here in the Northwest, and get out of this intolerable traffic.”