Yellowstone’s Newest Attraction? Self-Driving Shuttles
Written by Andrew-Rossi on October 23, 2020
Yellowstone National Park may soon host fleets of visitor shuttles as part of a new initiative to improve park visits and reduce park congestion.
In conjunction with the Department of Transportation (DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, park officials are launching two separate exploratory programs that involve shuttle programs operating inside Yellowstone:
- Canyon Village has been selected as the test-site a low-speed, automated shuttle, part of an emerging market for automated vehicle technology in the national parks. From late May to August 2021, fully autonomous shuttles from the company Beep Inc will be running through the Canyon’s campground, visitor services, and adjoining visitor lodging area. Canyon Village was specifically chosen for visitor safety.
- A feasibility study park officials undertaking with the NPS Intermountain Regional Alternative Transportation Program, the NPS Denver Service Center, and the DOT Volpe Center to develop shuttle systems at Canyon Village and Old Faithful. The partners will be examining system locations, routes, stops, fleet requirements, business models, ridership, and costs. This study will conclude in 2022 and should determine the feasibility of the park maintaining its own transit system at the park’s major attractions.
This is the implementation of an ongoing effort to reduce the congestion and volume of traffic on Yellowstone’s roads. During the peak months in the park, the roads at the park’s most popular places – West Entrance to Madison Junction, Madison Junction to Old Faithful, Old Faithful to West Thumb, Madison Junction to Norris Junction, and Norris Junction to Canyon Village – are often well above their capacity, sometimes as high as 29%.
In 2019, another pilot project to reduce traffic congestion saw success at Norris Junction, where a combination of overflow parking and more management by NPS staff improved visitor safety and access to the Norris Geyser Basin.
The feasibility studies at Canyon Village and Old Faithful have the same goal: to respond to increased congestion and visitor experience issues where traffic congestion and parking demand exceed capacity.
The shuttle initiatives are part of Yellowstone’s Visitor Use Management Program, which works to find innovative solutions to increasing visitation by exploring 1) impacts on resource conditions; 2) impacts on staffing, operations, and infrastructure; 3) impacts on the visitor experience; and 4) impacts on gateway communities and partners.