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Thursday, December 5, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Spokane City Council pumps brakes on self-driving bus service Olli

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 2, 2019

Olli, a small autonomous vehicle, will ply the Howard Street promenade in Riverfront Park starting Wednesday. In 2017, the vehicle operated in Columbus, Ohio, during a partnership with Ohio State University. (Courtesy Local Motors)
Olli, a small autonomous vehicle, will ply the Howard Street promenade in Riverfront Park starting Wednesday. In 2017, the vehicle operated in Columbus, Ohio, during a partnership with Ohio State University. (Courtesy Local Motors)

The Spokane City Council hit the brakes Monday on a proposal that would have brought a self-driving bus to Riverfront Park.

Had the council approved $88,000 in funding to launch a three-month pilot program, the slow-moving Olli bus would have begun shepherding people through Riverfront Park on Wednesday. The trial was set to run through March 4.

But the special budget ordinance required five of the council’s seven members to vote in support. Council members Lori Kinnear, Candace Mumm and Mike Fagan voted against the proposal.

Now the fate of the program is uncertain as Mayor David Condon’s administration would have to find funding from another source.

Earlier this year, the city applied to the Pacific Northwest Olli Fleet Challenge by Local Motors, a Phoenix-based company, and was chosen. Plans called for the vehicle to run between the Rotary Fountain near Spokane Falls Boulevard and the butterfly sculpture at the north end of the promenade near Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

The company pledged to provide two of the “low-speed, self-driving, electric shuttles” and operate the buses 40 hours per week.

Kinnear expressed concern that the bus was not accessible to people with disabilities. Mumm wished the Park Board had been authorized to spearhead the project.

Mumm also questioned the source of funding, which would have been unappropriated city reserves.

“We have to have a discussion about who’s funding it and why,” Mumm said.

Fagan questioned the safety of autonomous vehicles and argued the city is still grappling to address concerns aired following last year’s rollout of Lime scooters and bikes.

The city was on the hook for $88,000 to run the shuttles. The funding would cover “site setup and digital mapping” and $5 million in insurance coverage for automotive and general liability.

The city was also asked to secure covered parking with access to power for charging the Ollis. Under the agreement, the city would also be responsible for keeping the road clear for the vehicles.

Olli can carry up to eight people, and has a top speed of 25 mph. To help it navigate, it is equipped with lidar, which is similar to radar but uses laser light instead of radio waves. It has a range of 40 miles, which it means it could technically complete its Riverfront Park route 120 times.

Local Motors has deployed Olli shuttles in several California locations, Washington, D.C., and in Australia.

Reporter Adam Shanks contributed to this report.

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