The transportation industry is evolving at a rapid pace, aided by advancements in mobile and battery technology, new shared mobility business models, and vehicle automation. These emerging mobility trends present opportunities and challenges for NPS and the resources entrusted to it. NPS is exploring four key transportation trends that are currently impacting or expected to affect NPS and visitors: micromobility, ridehailing, traveler information technologies, and automated vehicles. NPS is also looking to the future by pursuing vehicle electrification and electric vehicle charging infrastructure to reduce transportation carbon emissions.
With input from staff across the agency and subject matter experts from the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with technical support from the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, NPS is assessing the resource protection, emissions, safety, equity, and visitor experience implications of these emerging mobility technologies and devising policy and program solutions. Proactively addressing these issues can help parks around the country support visitors and encourage car-free trips, protect natural and cultural resources, address logistical and policy issues, and develop a more efficient and nimble transportation system.
MicromobilityMicromobility includes shared or private electric scooters, bikeshare, or other small, lightweight, wheeled conveyances. This rapidly evolving field presents challenges as well as new opportunities. Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare and Minneapolis’s Nice Ride feature bikeshare stations within NPS boundaries, planned in partnership with NPS. NPS sites in urban areas, such as National Mall and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are coping with the sudden arrival of dockless e-scooter systems whose users sometimes leave these devices haphazardly blocking roads, sidewalks, or scenic views. Some parks are strategizing how to use micromobility devices to expand access to traditionally underserved communities, along with helping to close the first- and last-mile gap to transit and encouraging car-free trips. Working under these considerations, and with input from subject matter experts, NPS is currently pursing pilot projects at appropriate park locations to test out requiring visitors to park devices in designated corrals using geofencing technology and/or developing designated micromobility routes.
RidehailingIn many urban and suburban national parks, some visitors already access parks via ridehailing services such as Uber and Lyft, providing additional options and enhanced access, especially for those without cars. At the same time, rural parks are increasingly interested in working with ridehailing companies to reduce the need for expensive and environmentally disruptive new parking lots. NPS is pursuing ridehailing pilot projects in parks in order to test operational, infrastructure, and visitor experience impacts.
Traveler Information TechnologiesNPS is using traveler information technologies as a cost-effective way to reduce congestion and improve the visitor experience at parks across the country. These encompass a range of technologies that can provide visitors with information about travel conditions, congestion, parking, and trip planning—and help them make more informed travel decisions. Part of the NPS strategy includes deploying infrastructure, also known as intelligent transportation systems (ITS), like transit vehicle locator systems, vehicle and parking lot counters, automated entrance gates, and variable message signs. The widespread adoption of smartphones and mobile technology also provides an opportunity to share real-time information with the traveling public, from bus locations to parking space availability to road closure information. NPS is exploring ways to enhance the newly released NPS smartphone app in order to integrate and provide visitors with trip planning and other transportation-related information.
Automated VehiclesOver the past decade, significant advancements have been made in automated vehicle technologies, ranging from driver-assistance features to highly-automated vehicles capable of driving without human assistance. As these technologies continue to advance, they may change how people access and engage with national parks and introduce new considerations for NPS related to the development and maintenance of transportation systems.
NPS is launching electric automated shuttle pilots at Wright Brothers National Memorial (WRBR) and Yellowstone National Park in spring 2021. These automated shuttle pilots—the first-ever automated shuttle pilots at a recreational public lands site in the country—will allow NPS to test the suitability of emerging automated vehicle technologies in public lands. The two parks chosen for these pilots each represent a milestone innovation in American history that these pilots build upon. With WRBR as the location of the first successful airplane flights, and Yellowstone as the world’s first national park, these pilots build upon this historic legacy of innovation and advancement, allowing the NPS to test emerging technologies to chart a plan forward in the future of transportation to and within public lands destinations.
The WRBR pilot is being conducted in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and EasyMile. NPS selected vendor Beep, Inc. through a competitive process to provide automated shuttle service in the Canyon Village area for the Yellowstone pilot. Both pilots use electric vehicles capable of operating at SAE Level 4 automation. A trained safety attendant will be on-board at all times to monitor vehicle operations and will be able to take manual control of the vehicle if necessary for any reason. The shuttle demonstrations will be conducted in compliance with all relevant federal, state, and local guidelines concerning health and safety measures related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The NPS, in partnership with the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, will evaluate both pilots in fall 2021 following their completion to assess how the automated technologies performed in park settings and to identify potential future use cases for automated shuttles and other technologies across the National Park System.
The NPS partnered with University of Southern California graduate students in 2018, during a year long practicum, to look at considerations of Implementing Autonoumous and Connected Vehicle Technologies in the Park Setting. For a copy of the full report, contact the NPS.
Last updated: April 20, 2021