Downtown Orlando’s autonomous SWAN shuttle draws curious riders

Students are back in Creative Village for their fall semester with a new way to travel around the downtown UCF and Valencia College campuses.

Orlando’s autonomous SWAN Shuttle launched this week, running seven days a week circling a limited portion of the LYNX Orange route.

The free shuttle, which started running Sunday, drew a crowd of curious students, business people and commuters, who were intrigued by the quiet, slow-moving vehicle, as it approached busy Lynx Central Station Monday. Its arrival at various stops drew photos and chatter about the pill-shaped vehicle, painted like Lake Eola’s famous swans.

Lesean Andrew, 27, who lives near the UCF campus, stepped aboard after hearing about the shuttle while on one of Lynx’s Orange Line buses. He decided to take the shuttle to the UnionWest stop on his way home, after being intrigued, albeit uneasy, about the driverless ride.

“We don’t usually have self-driving vehicles. …To actually be on it and see he’s not actually [controlling it] that’s cool,” he said. “I’m still used to someone being behind the wheel and actually driving.”

The shuttle is a Beep vehicle, the Lake Nona-based company that runs similar shuttles in Lake Nona and Altamonte Springs. The Creative Village route is a chance to test the vehicles in an urban environment, which creates unique obstacles.

An attendant is on board at all times, who can take over controls of the bus in a pinch, steering the vehicle on a controller with joysticks. Passengers sit in air conditioning in the vehicle and must buckle their seatbelts.

On Monday, the vehicle occasionally jolted to a stop, triggered by palm fronds dangling over the road, or a vehicle parked in the crosswalk. At Amelia Street and Garland Avenue, the bus came to a stop in the middle of the busy intersection on one lap, forcing an attendant to take over and drive it through and back into the bus lane.

On the next lap, neither mishap happened.

City officials have awaited launching the shuttle, excited about its potential to showcase the technology in its downtown, and the chance to expand the service into other neighborhoods if it proves successful.

The test is due to run for six months and costs $500,000. It runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. each day.