Driverless shuttles will soon zip tourists through Yellowstone. How do they work?

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In addition to the bison, geysers and canyons, tourists at Yellowstone National Park will soon get to see a new attraction: the first automated shuttle system in any of the national parks.

Park visitors will soon be zipped around the park in shuttle buses that drive themselves, park officials announced Tuesday.

The shuttles are part of a pilot program starting May 24 that will test the technology for future consideration at other national park sites.

“The goal is to understand how AV shuttle technology can be used in parks and how visitors perceive and engage these services,” the National Park Service said on its website. “The data from this pilot will help guide long-term management decisions regarding transportation in national parks.”

How do the shuttles work?

Over the next month, park officials will spend time getting trained on how the vehicles work and map the shuttles’ routes, park officials said.

Automated shuttles from Beep Inc., the company chosen for the pilot program, get around by using sensing lasers and GPS maps, according to the National Park Service. Sensors scan the area around the shuttle and stop if something gets too close.

Yellowstone is the first national park to test automated shuttles within the park.
Yellowstone is the first national park to test automated shuttles within the park.

“Autonomous vehicles use cutting-edge technology to operate without a driver,” the National Park Service said in a news release. “However, as part of this pilot, a trained customer service operator will ride in the vehicle to ensure the safety of passengers.”

Park officials plan to spend several weeks testing the shuttles onsite before visitors are allowed to ride.

“A robust plan will also be used to train all park-wide first responders on operations that come up during the pilot,” the National Park Service said. “Beep Inc. is required to regularly report all data tied to ridership, departure times, route performance and battery performance to the NPS.”

Are the shuttles going to be in other national parks?

Yellowstone will be the only national park that will have self-driving shuttles. Wright Brother National Monument is the only other site within the National Park Service to test out the shuttles.

Yellowstone was chosen for the pilot program because of its “remoteness and popularity,” the National Park Service said.

If the program goes well, park officials will consider using similar technology for self-driving vehicles in other national park across the country, officials said.

“This pilot will be used to help inform considerations for emerging technologies like this throughout the park system and give us a better sense of what’s needed,” park officials said. “If successful, we may consider using this technology in the future as we examine how alternative transit systems can be used in Yellowstone.”

Are the shuttles COVID-19 safe?

The National Park Service is requiring all riders to wear a face mask on the shuttles to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Officials will also only allow a certain number of visitors on the shuttle at a time. It won’t be operating at full capacity.

“Up to 6 passengers may ride the shuttle if traveling together,” park officials said. “For parties not traveling together, the shuttle can accommodate a group of two passengers and a group of three passengers simultaneously.”

The attendant on the shuttle will also wear a face mask, get his or her temperature checked before boarding and wipe down all seats and seat belts between rides.

Where does the shuttle go?

The shuttles can take visitors within the Canyon Village campground, visitor services and other lodging areas.

Important: May 24–July 12, the shuttle will run the hotel to visitor services route. July 13 is a changeover day, meaning no service. July 14–August 31, the shuttle will run between the campground and visitor services.
Important: May 24–July 12, the shuttle will run the hotel to visitor services route. July 13 is a changeover day, meaning no service. July 14–August 31, the shuttle will run between the campground and visitor services.

The shuttles will stop at Visitor Services, Moran Lodge and Washburn Lodge from May 24 to July 12, according to the park. From July 14 to Aug. 31, the shuttles will travel from Visitor Services to the Amphitheater and Campground Services, the Middle Campground and Upper Campground.

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