Autonomous Shuttle Buses on a Dedicated Busway

As of the time of writing, there are several companies around the world that are producing autonomous passenger vans with demonstrated capability. Several cities around the world already have them in regular service. See: https://www.curbed.com/2017/11/2/16593004/bus-autonomous-vehicle-electric-public-transportation. This plan proposes a route for autonomous buses running on a dedicated busway from the Exit 15X/Secaucus Transfer NJ Transit station, through the Bergen Arches right-of-way and then onto surface streets through the Holland tunnel into Manhattan. A simple route such as this lends itself to autonomous buses. As these buses are electric and rubber-tired, they are quiet and have no tailpipe emissions. These factors should make the busway concept more acceptable to the residents that live along the route. As the busway would ideally have a few stops in Jersey City, it could be argued that the busway would raise property values along the route, because it is making it easier for residents to get to work.

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The other advantages over light rail are the facts that infrastructure costs are much lower and there is flexibility in being able to use other routes if there is an accident or breakdown blocking a route, and the buses would be able to go into Manhattan without any new infrastructure in the tunnel or on the streets of Manhattan. It would be able to utilize existing streets. It has an obvious advantage over private cars in that you are hauling more people through the tunnel instead of more cars and not creating induced demand for cars, which leads to congestion. The number of people that can get through the tunnel per hour would be effectively raised. As the riders are able to direct the bus to their destination, they are not limited to regular bus stops and could theoretically be brought to the door of their building, which adds to the appeal of this mode during inclement weather.

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Since the buses could be summoned via a smart phone app, the wait would only be as long as the driving time from the current location of the nearest bus. With a large fleet, waiting times would not be long at all. Since waiting is such a source of stress for transit users, several small buses with five-minute wait times is considered to be better than a full-size bus that comes every twenty minutes. They can operate at any time of the day or night, which may allow PATH to suspend service during the wee hours of the morning when ridership is lowest. This would free up time to do track maintenance, which has been a factor for many of the delays now happening with the NYC subway. While on the subject of trains, it should be noted that autonomous buses would be able to assemble themselves into wirelessly linked “trains” or “platoons”, which would make them even more efficient in using the lane space of the tunnels. They can operate in close proximity to each other.  See the “hyperlane” concept here: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/03/self-driving-cars-high-speed-lane-berkeley-california#img-2

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Considering how crowded the PATH trains get at peak times, the option should be very popular. PATH cannot increase capacity without rebuilding stations to accommodate longer trains, which again is a project that would cost a lot of money and create a lot of disruption and take many years. Although this busway would run close to the route of the PATH through Jersey City, it is not really duplicating the service of the PATH system because it would run from the Secaucus Transfer station and be able to go to several different locations within Manhattan. Extensive studies were done in 2002 for re-using the Bergen Arches route for transit or roadway, so a lot of the planning work has already been done. With all the new residential development that has occurred in Jersey City since then, coupled with New York City’s job growth, transit capacity really needs to be expanded. Additionally, there is the ominous threat of one of the Amtrak tunnels under the Hudson being taken out of service for repairs before the Gateway tunnel is complete. It is a well-known fact that this would cripple regional transportation and have ruinous economic costs.  With this plan, you have a relatively simple and lower-cost way to increase the capacity of the Holland tunnel.