Automated shuttles arrive in Yellowstone

Automated electric vehicles arrived at Yellowstone National Park in April as part of a pilot program to test transit options for the National Parks Service.

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


Federal officials plan to launch an automated shuttle service in Yellowstone National Park next month to inform long-term decisions about transportation in national parks.

Yellowstone National Park announced earlier this week that two automated shuttles arrived in the park for a pilot project. Staff are testing the vehicles before the service is scheduled to start May 24, a park spokesperson said.

The low-speed, electric automated vehicles from Beep, Inc. are planned to cruise through the Canyon Village area from May 24 to Aug. 31.

Yellowstone is the first national park to test automated shuttle technology, according to the park. The Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina also has plans to try the technology this spring.

From May 24 to July 12, visitors can travel between Visitor Services, Washburn Lodge and Moran Lodge in the Canyon Village area using the shuttle system.

Stops along the route are planned shift to Visitor Services, Amphitheater and Campground Services, Middle Campground and Upper Campground in the Canyon Village area from July 14 to Aug. 31.

The National Park Service is launching the pilot to better understand how automated shuttle technology can be used in parks. Data will be collected on on speeds, stop times, attendant overrides and ridership, according to officials.

An attendant will stay on each shuttle to make sure people are safe and take control of the vehicle if necessary, according to officials. Park staff and first responders are also receiving risk management training.

Passengers must wear a mask while on the shuttle, and they’ll have access to disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer pumps, officials wrote. Attendants must wear masks, take temperature checks, wipe seats and seatbelts and disinfect the vehicles.

The shuttles are planned to operate at reduced capacity to limit the spread of the coronavirus. A single group of up to six passengers traveling together can ride a shuttle simultaneously. Separate groups of three and two passengers traveling together can also ride at once.

Yellowstone was picked as a site for the pilot because of its remoteness and popularity, according to the park service. Canyon Village was selected “based on visitor safety and the potential for NPS to learn from the pilot,” officials wrote.

Recent visitor use and transportation studies in Yellowstone suggest popular roadways and parking areas are over capacity by about 30% during peak seasons, according to park data.

Initiatives like the automated shuttle pilot are aimed at addressing congestion and parking capacity issues. Depending on the success of the pilot, automated shuttle technology may be used for an alternative transit system in Yellowstone.

Visitation was down 5% in Yellowstone last year from 2019, but the park saw record visitation in September and October. The overall decline was mainly due to the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, when park entrances were temporarily closed.

Yellowstone, the park service and partnering agencies and programs are conducting a separate Transit Feasibility Study to “analyze the opportunities, risks and costs of local shuttles possibly originating at Old Faithful and Canyon Village.” They anticipate the study will be finished in 2022.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.