Politics & Government

Charlotte in talks with GM to test self-driving cars

Charlotte has wanted to be a test site since it applied for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities program in early 2016. That was a frantic, three-month competition between cities as to who could best solve congestion issues. Columbus, Ohio, won, but Charlotte didn’t want the entire project to be wasted.
Charlotte has wanted to be a test site since it applied for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities program in early 2016. That was a frantic, three-month competition between cities as to who could best solve congestion issues. Columbus, Ohio, won, but Charlotte didn’t want the entire project to be wasted. AP

The city wants to be a pioneer in self-driving cars, and is in early talks with General Motors about the car maker testing new autonomous vehicles, most likely in University City.

Charlotte has wanted to be a test site since it applied for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities program in early 2016. That was a frantic, three-month competition between cities as to who could best solve congestion issues. Columbus, Ohio, won, but Charlotte didn’t want the entire project to be wasted.

“We had some really good ideas and we didn’t want them to die,” said Rob Phocas, the city’s sustainability director.

GM recently said it would soon begin production of its first self-driving car, which it plans to test in and around Detroit.

But Charlotte believes the company will also want other test sites. The company’s call center for its OnStar system is in University City.

“The general idea is, ‘Is there a way to work with city and test autonomous vehicles?’” Phocas said Tuesday. “The University City area with the business park would be a good environment. It’s busy, but it’s not a city street.”

He said the city may also consider bringing self-driving cars to an area of North Tryon Street near uptown that Charlotte is rebranding as the Applied Innovation Corridor.

Phocas said when the Lynx Blue Line extension opens in early 2018, self-driving cars could help passengers on the first and last mile of their trips.

He said the city and GM are both discussing whether the testing could work. If the testing moves forward, Phocas said it would likely be early next decade.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently named 10 “proving ground” test sites for driverless cars, including the Triangle Expressway outside of Raleigh.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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