Self-driving electric shuttle set to stop after successful 2-year run, operators say

It’s the end of the road for Fairfax County’s driverless shuttle. 

In a groundbreaking experiment, the electric vehicle has been picking people up and dropping them off in Mosaic District, a popular shopping area in Fairfax County, for more than two years, but now, the pilot program is being put in park. 

The "Relay" project is a partnership between Fairfax County, Dominion Energy, EDENS (Mosaic), The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and George Mason University (GMU).

The shuttle runs a four-stop route that is pre-programmed by engineers and on board computers drive the vehicle while several sensors and detection lasers are used to navigate potential obstacles, pedestrians and other vehicles. 

Officials say they are closing out the study because they have collected enough data to determine if a self-driving shuttle is safe and will people use it. The answer to both questions: yes.  

The shuttle has made 356 trips since it began and, according to the operators, this test has been a big success. However, some Fairfax County residents tell FOX 5 that they’re not quite onboard with self-driving vehicles.

"I’d prefer a human driver, just for safety sake and having responsibility, obligation and authority," one resident said. 

It’s a concern many share. 

The developers say the shuttle’s highly sensitive sensors and lasers are constantly scanning the area around the vehicle. Because of this, they encourage drivers to keep at least ten feet between their vehicles and the shuttle, adding that emergency stops may be abrupt, so passengers are asked to stay seated and wear a seatbelt at all times. 

"There’s just so many things that could happen — so many glitches that could occur with the technology," another resident told FOX 5. 


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However, data over the past two years shows that Relay hasn’t had any incidents and was actually upgraded and added stops since it was first launched in 2020. And the company that built the vehicle, Transdev, says safety is a priority.

"The vehicle uses that with the radar sensors and the GPS to know where it is at all times. It knows where all the obstacles are it knows how everything’s moving, interacting with each other, and it uses all that data to safely navigate," said Jordon Green with Transdev. 

And while delivering quick, easy public transportation is at the heart of the project, so is sustainability.  

"We’re an energy company and that’s our number one priority: delivering safe, reliable energy. But we’re interested in learning new things to do things better and differently and transportation is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases," Green said.  

Dominion Energy says this will help develop future environmentally-friendly electric vehicles.

"Innovative solutions, such as this, will help drive down carbon emissions and improve air quality," Mark Webb, Dominion Energy Chief Innovation Officer said in a statement when the program initially launched. "Transportation is the number one source of carbon emissions and electric vehicles are one way we can help other sectors reduce their impact on the environment." 

George Mason is currently running a survey of people who’ve taken trips on Relay and will continue to compile their information through the end of this month.