At Children’s Health’s Plano campus, staff has the option to ride from their parking to the hospital in an autonomous shuttle.
When construction on the campus took away some of the staff parking, employees parked in a lot half a mile from the hospital because closer lots are reserved for patients. The new lot was about half a mile from the hospital, so the health system partnered with Toyota and EasyMile (who makes the vehicles) to provide transportation for employees.
Autonomous shuttles are a growing service around the country. EasyMile vehicles are already transporting passengers in DFW Airport to remote parking lots. Florida-based Beep has autonomous shuttles in several states. Uses include transporting COVID-19 testing samples in a driverless vehicle to avoid exposure, moving tourists at Yellowstone National Park, and using them for first mile and last mile transportation along the tourist corridor in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The shuttle can transport six people and travels at about 10 miles per hour between the hospital and parking lot, which takes six to eight minutes. The electric vehicle avoids adding 90,000 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere every year. While it drives by itself, there is an attendant on board who can operate the vehicle if there is an obstruction in the road, as it will wait for it to clear the path before moving forward if left to its own devices.
The route is part of a pilot project that has been in the works for a couple of years, says Frank Castro III, the parking and transportation manager for Children’s Health. He says they would eventually like to add a similar service to the medical district to connect Parkland, Children’s Health, and UT Southwestern facilities.
The pilot launched in early December, and Castro says they have had some interest from the City of Plano about a similar service in the Shops at Legacy.
“It is a been really fulfilling to see it come across the finish line,” Castro says. “We hoping that we get enough feedback to expand the project to the medical district.”