Small autonomous electric cars running on narrow fixed guideways could someday shuttle passengers to and from Bay Area BART and Amtrak stations and other locations, and Oakley could be one of the first cities to test that pilot program.
On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved a cooperation agreement with Wayfarer, doing business as Glydways Inc., to evaluate the viability of this proposed on-demand transit system touted as a new standard in the post-pandemic world.
When completed in East Contra Costa, it would take up to three passengers riding in small individual cars from Oakley’s yet-to-be-completed Amtrak train station on Main Street to the Antioch BART station with stops in between, possibly at the Contra Costa Logistics Center, a job hub now being built at Bridgehead Road.
Riders at individual boarding bays would enter personal pods that would be steam-disinfected after each use, while point-to-point journeys would minimize infection risks, according to the firm.
The South San Francisco-based company also is in talks with Richmond, San Jose and other cities to develop transportation systems, and Glydways’ car pathways are envisioned in Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.
Under the agreement with Oakley, the city would have no direct financial obligation other than staff time involved in the ongoing research and implementation of the pilot program, City manager Bryan Montgomery said.
Glydways proposes a phased, “design, build, finance, operate and maintain” structure for its project, with financing a mix of debt and equity, and operations and maintenance paid for through ridership and other revenue.
In an earlier interview, Mayor Kevin Romick said the goal of the system is to provide choices.
“The benefit is it would be moving people that first and last mile,” he said, referring to the distance between the Amtrak train platform and the Logistics Center.
“The only access point to BART from Amtrak is at Richmond,” he added. “So, if you’re coming from points east on the train and you work in Concord, your commute options are limited.”
Romick, who also sits on the Contra Costa Transportation Authority Board, said the city has been in talks with Glydways for about a year.
“What we initially would be doing would be a trial or demo for how it all works,” Romick added, noting testing would be at the Amtrak parking lot.
Randell H. Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, said in a later phone interview, that transportation needs to be “reinvented to remain relevant to provide safe, accessible, cost-effective ways to move people.”
“I think there’s a lot of potential for technology to help solve the first and last mile problem,” he said, referring to the problem of getting commuters from their homes to BART and other points like job centers.
“As commuters search out personalized mobility options, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority believes that Glydways’ scalable, lightweight, Automated-Transit-Networks-based technology has the potential to provide a personalized experience while also supporting environmental efforts to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled by solo drivers,” he said.
Another company, CyberTran International Inc., also came to Oakley in 2017 with a proposal for “autonomous rail vehicles.” Stymied by lack of federal grants, that firm made a plea Tuesday to Oakley leaders to hold off on any approvals with others.
Dexter Vizinau, president of CyberTran, said Congress was working on a coronavirus-related infrastructure bill that could help fund transportation systems like his, which not only moves people but freight.
Even so, Montgomery said the city recommended supporting Glydways, noting the CTI effort could continue and be “much broader.”
Reached shortly before the meeting, Eliot Temple of Glydways said the firm “couldn’t be happier” to be working with Oakley where an expansive new job center is underway.
“We have pretty much chosen Contra Costa County,” he said. “The Contra Costa Transit Authority has a unique team of folks there … They are one group of people that will see this through and get this done.”
The proposed transit system is estimated to cost $20 million per mile to build and 25 cents per passenger per mile to run it, according to the proposal.
“The unit economics are extremely low-cost, so the system pays for itself in years and operates almost at a profit, so there are no subsidies necessary, nothing like that,” Temple said.
Even so, Temple said Glydways’ on-demand system can move up to 10,000 people per hour, all traveling on bicycle-lane-sized paths in battery-operated vehicles that measure 3.7-feet wide, 5.9-feet tall and 9.8-feet long. And wait times are seconds, not minutes, he said.
Cars are dispatched from garages to meet the system demand, Lynn Tao, Glydways commercial operations director, explained.
“Glydways combines the best aspect of a car experience—a private journey, with ultra-high system-wide capacity…” she said.
The autonomous pods will undergo “proof of concept” testing at Concord’s GoMentum Station, a testing ground for such cars at the former Naval Weapons Station station, according to Temple. The pilot program at Oakley or at other potential sites would come after that, he said.