The last year has seen some of the nation’s first mass transit vehicles that operate without drivers at the wheel. Many hopes ride on the success of these buses and trains, and a lot of fears follow them. Some bill the projects as trial or demonstration programs and some consider them bold steps ahead in urban neighborhood development.

But none go into service without those responsible for them knowing that the whole country is watching. Everywhere, their supporters promise safety is always the top priority.

Doraville residents take a driverless shuttle to MARTA

A driverless shuttle recently went into service at the Doraville Assembly Yards, taking residents to and from the MARTA station at Doraville. An article published nearly a year before the shuttle went into service offered the hope residents would be “taking advantage of the relaxed open-container policies at Doraville’s Assembly Yards,” perhaps an hour by public transit from Atlanta’s city center.

Challenged neighborhood reconnected to its city

In contrast, in an important sense the South Linden neighborhood joined the rest of Columbus, OH, this month with the start of what the city is calling “the U.S.’s first daily, public residential autonomous shuttle.” A product of an Obama administration program, the shuttle will run for one year.

South Linden is one of many neighborhoods around the country that the interstate highway system severed from the rest of the economic and cultural world. The driverless shuttle now helps reconnect South Linden residents to the people, opportunities, amenities and services more easily reached from the rest of Columbus.

The shuttle has no driver, but an operator (known as a “customer service ambassador”) is, the program promises, always available to take the wheel if needed.