2 Nov 2018

Chch red zone prime spot for autonomous vehicle testing

From Checkpoint, 5:44 pm on 2 November 2018

Driverless cars could soon be cruising around abandoned streets in Christchurch's red zone if plans for 'autonomous vehicle testing' get the green light.

The Transport Agency wants to promote Christchurch internationally as a destination for testing new transport technologies - including ones that fly - before they mix with pedestrians and other traffic.

The agency says residential streets in the red-zone are the prime spot for the testing - and there aren't many places like it anywhere else in the world.

NZTA regional relationships director Jim Garland said the area mimicked neighbourhoods around the world - but with no-one living or visiting there, they presented a unique opportunity.

"Minus most of the houses you've actually still got a full urban grid, so that means if you bring your vehicle there you could set-up different scenarios for people on foot-paths, stopping times and all of that."

Mr Garland said there was a range of roading surfaces in the area, which was part of the appeal for overseas companies wanting to try their vehicles out.

The testing would only happen in a small area of the red-zone near Bexley, but Mr Garland said it wouldn't just be limited to land-based vehicles.

"One of the opportunities that the red-zone would provide, because it's a reasonable distance from the airport... it could potentially be used to test aerial vehicles."

Christchurch City Council innovation and sustainability committee Vicki Buck said the project was exactly the type of thing the city wanted to embrace. 

She said the vehicle testing wouldn't cost the council anything.

"It's using what's already there in a way that's innovative and actually allowing for testing that would be quite difficult to find in most cities - most cities don't have cordoned off roads and that type of thing."

Plans around the testing have been in the pipeline for the past few months - and Ms Buck said it could only mean good things for the city.

"There are autonomous electric vehicles being trialled everywhere in the world - all of them have to get approvals to go on the road.

"The risks, I can't think they're very high unless the world suddenly stops innovating," she said.

Land Information New Zealand said it was working with the NZTA regarding an application to use part of the Bexley Residential Red Zone area. 
It said a decision on the land use was likely to be made before the end of the year.