California Department of Transportation

California Department of Transportation

Headquarters - Public Affairs Office
Tamie McGowen
(916) 657-5060

November 13, 2008


Sacramento - This month, Caltrans will embark on a pilot program to test technology that guides buses by magnets, just as trolleys are guided by cables. During the final stage of the program, Caltrans will conduct the first-ever test of the magnetic system on public bus lines.

"This technology would enable travel times on public transit to be more comparable to that of personal vehicles,” said Caltrans Director Will Kempton. “By convincing more people to get out of their cars and onto buses, greater congestion reduction can be achieved.“

One test will be on Alameda County Transit’s TransBay Express on a four-mile stretch of State Route 92 from Hesperian Boulevard to the San Mateo Bridge toll plaza. The other test will be performed with the Lane County Transit District in Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, on its EmX Bus Rapid Transit system.

The technology is officially known as Vehicle Assist and Automation (VAA). Magnets embedded in the roadway transmit information to sensors on a bus. The driver controls braking and acceleration, but the steering is completely automated. The automation can be overridden by the driver, if necessary.

VAA keeps a bus centered in its lane and enables the bus to travel safely in narrow spaces at a higher rate of speed. Buses can pick up more passengers and complete their routes in less time. The “precision docking” feature of VAA enables buses to pull within one inch of a stop, which is especially helpful to passengers with disabilities.

Caltrans received a $1.9 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to conduct the pilot program, which is scheduled to end in October 2010. The total cost of the program is $2.4 million, including $500,000 in state funding provided by Caltrans. California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways at the University of California, Berkeley, and specialized private companies are partners in the program.