The emerging technology of autonomous vehicles has a multitude of ways in which it can drastically affect urban transportation. Given its improving ability of precise operation, one such way is the potential for driverless public transport to be implemented along narrow corridors with other road users. The purpose of this study is to investigate the perception of autonomous transportation for those who currently use one such corridor, the Okanagan Rail Trail (ORT) in Kelowna, British Columbia. This corridor runs through the heart of the city connecting major destinations such as Downtown Kelowna, a university, and an international airport. The idea is to offer transit services along a dedicated corridor, which could further increase the usage of this corridor, offer modal transfer, and increase safety by offering passive surveillance for the trail users. Given the space constraint, Autonomous Transit (AT) is considered to be a fitting technology for this application. However, the facility does not currently allow any heavy vehicles and is used by active transport users such as pedestrians, cyclists, e-scooter riders, among others. Hence, it is of critical importance to understand the existing users’ perception towards this new transport mode. In order to analyze this impact, an intercept survey was developed to gather information regarding users’ perspectives on AT along the ORT, their current rail trail usage, and their socio-demographic characteristics. 737 trail users were surveyed, and after data cleaning, 718 responses were found to be sufficiently complete for analysis. The data shows that 52% of trail users agree with a form of AT along the ORT, though 47% of those surveyed indicated they were not fully comfortable with the technology. A strong majority of 83% of surveyed respondents indicated that the transit vehicles should only operate within their own dedicated right-of-way. 34% of respondents indicated that this would reduce the use of their private vehicles, though this varied quite significantly through the different age categories, with 46% of those between 25 and 34 agreeing with the sentiment compared to only 25% of those between the ages of 65 to 74. The results shed light on the factors (such as trust and acceptance of emerging technologies, socio-demographics, and travel patterns) affecting the perception towards the implementation of a disruptive technology alongside vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
Keywords: Autonomous Transit; Pedestrians; Bicyclists; Rail Trail Corridor; Intercept Survey; Trust and Safety