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Last updated: 9/5/17

Autonomous vehicles: Boston’s approach

Learn more about our plans for testing autonomous vehicles, and their potential future in the City of Boston.

The Vision

Zero deaths. Zero Injuries. Zero disparities. Zero emissions. Zero Stress. This is Boston's vision for our transportation future.

Autonomous vehicles offer immense promise to help us get closer to these goals. However, the promise of these vehicles isn't a given. They could displace an important workforce and encourage both sprawl and congestion. That’s why we launched an autonomous vehicle testing program. 

We want to shape the development of technology and policy to deliver on the potential promise — and not the potential drawbacks.

Contact information

Have questions about autonomous vehicles in Boston? Is your company interested in testing? Contact us at av@boston.gov.

What can be achieved?

Safety. Access. Reliability.

During our Go Boston 2030 planning, these were the values Boston residents told us they wanted for their transportation system to embody.

Safer Streets:

The overwhelming majority of crashes on our streets are caused by human error. The promise of autonomous vehicles is to eliminate up to 90 percent of those crashes.

Better Access:

Who stands to benefit most from this technology if it’s applied the right way? Many people, including:

  • the aging population and those with visual impairments
  • those looking to reduce the burden of personal vehicle ownership, and
  • those without access to rapid transit.
Better reliability:

We can reduce the number of vehicles on our roadways through the adoption of shared fleets of autonomous vehicles. This frees up space for other uses, other travel modes, and creates more predictable travel times.

Self-driving vehicle testing

While our official testing facility is all of Boston, we are taking a very graduated approach.

At first, any company will be constrained in the time, place, and manner of their testing.  Before testing on streets, companies must meet — off-street — our important standards, including:

  • ease of manual takeover from autonomous mode
  • emergency braking and emergency stop functionality, and
  • basic driving capabilities, such as staying within a lane.

We’ll only allow testing during good weather and daylight hours. Once a company reaches certain milestones, we may allow them to begin testing in other areas of Boston. 

Current AV testing zones

Map of the AV testing area

For our initial on-street testing, we will keep it to just a few blocks. These blocks are within the City's Flynn Marine Park in the Innovation District. After meeting test plan milestones, AV testing for nuTonomy was recently expanded to about a 1,000 acres of the South Boston Waterfront. 

Current testing partners

OPTIMUS RIDE: ON-STREET

Optimus Ride

The City approved Optimus Ride for on-street testing in the Raymond Flynn Marine Park in June 2017

Delphi: On-street

Delphi Autonomous Drive Vehicle

The City approved Delphi for on-street testing in the Raymond Flynn Marine Park in June 2017.

Review the related documents section below for more testing details. 

Future partners

The City is interested in exploring partnerships and shared research agendas in four areas:

  • vehicle technology testing focused on Boston’s unique environment
  • business model exploration that speaks to the goals of Go Boston 2030, and
  • experiments with connected transportation infrastructure
  • research and engagement with the public on autonomous mobility and workforce implications.

Please connect with us if you would like to explore the future together.

To begin testing in the City of Boston, a provider must:

  1. complete a memorandum of understanding with the appropriate parties, and
  2. complete an application with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

In advance of the application to MassDOT, a testing provider needs to agree on a phased testing plan with the City of Boston.

City of Boston's thought partners

We’ll be working closely with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, MassPort, and area research institutions. However, we’ve also created two formal partnerships to help us think about what autonomous vehicles could mean for cities:

THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

In June of 2016, Boston was selected by the World Economic Forum as a focus-city for policy and pilot development of autonomous vehicles. Through this partnership, we will work with:

  • the World Economic Forum
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • international cities, and
  • mobility industry leaders.

We plan to develop policy goals and autonomous vehicle testing scenarios for Boston.

TRANSPORTATION FOR AMERICA

Transportation For America’s Smart City Collaborative share ideas, data, and best practices with 14 other cities across the country.  Our specific area in this collaborative is the autonomous vehicle working group.

VOLPE NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS CENTER

The City of Boston is part of the Low-speed Automated Shuttle Working Group. This collection of public officials around the country leads shuttle testing work. The working group is chaired and facilitated by the the team at Volpe. The goal is to share learnings and best practices. 

Watch: Piloting AV to drive the City of the future