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Gregg Steverson
Acting Director

Autonomous Electric Shuttle Pilot Project

Relay Operations

Relay was a free, self-driving shuttle provided by Fairfax County between the Dunn Loring Metrorail Station and the Mosaic District in Merrifield. The shuttle's software was programmed to follow a prerecorded path at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour. It relied on several sensors (localization lasers, GPS, odometry and cameras) to navigate and orient in the environment and follow a predefined network of routes. The sensors and lasers helped detect obstacles in several zones around the vehicle to assist with safe navigation. If vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians or objects in the road were detected, Relay was programmed to slow or stop to avoid incident.

Although Relay was "autonomous," a Safety Steward always was on board in activate an emergency brake. Fail-safe brakes could be automatically activated to stop the vehicle even when there was no power, or when the vehicle was stationary. In addition, the operator helped ensure safety and accessibility for passengers. Relay was equipped with a ramp to get into the vehicle, as well as restraints for any wheelchair or scooter.

When in operation, FCDOT asked the following of the Relay community:

  • Drivers should stay attentive and keep at least 10 feet between their vehicle and Relay; do not use bike lanes or cross double yellow lines to pass the shuttle.
  • If a full lane was available, motorists could use that travel lane to legally and safely pass Relay.
  • Riders were advised to remain seated with seat belts on in case of emergency stops. Due to the Pandemic, Relay would carry a maximum of six riders.

Fairfax County was responsible for overseeing the shuttle operations. TransDev managed the technology, maintaining the vehicle, providing the safety attendants and providing overall service.

Relay operated Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Everyone was welcome to ride the shuttle for free - no tickets were requried.

  1. District Avenue at Penny Lane
  2. Merrifield Town Center Drive and District Avenue
  3. Bench next to Angelika Film Center 
  4. Archer Hotel 
  5. Dunn Loring Metrorail Station 


Relay Route

Following a RFP process conducted by Dominion Energy, EasyMile’s EZ10 model was selected for the pilot. At the time of the project, the EZ10 was deployed on public and private roads in more than 25 countries on four continents.

EasyMile’s EZ10 model:

  • had more than 200 deployments at the time of selection,
  • held up to 12 passengers,
  • featured a full set of sensors, including Lidars, cameras, and GPS to ensure safety, and
  • featured a built-in, automated electric wheelchair access ramp.

The vehicle used a combination of GPS signal, Lidar (laser detection technology) and predefined route programing to determine its location. The 3D lidar worked up to 262 feet and 2D Lidar up to 131 feet. Additionally, the localization Lidar instruments could scan up to 492 feet.

The cameras in the front and rear of the vehicle were used to aid in remote supervision of the vehicle. The on-board cameras helped us learn more about the movement of the vehicle and how passengers, pedestrians and other motorists interacted with the vehicle.  

The source of Relay's power was four 48V lithium-ion batteries and one 12V battery, making it an environmentally-friendly transportation option for a two-ton (4,409 pounds) vehicle. Relay could typically operate for 10-14 hours on a single charge. The variance depended on the specific power utilization from heat, air conditioning of other similar factors. It took Relay's battery six to eight hours to return to full charge.

Before going into service, the shuttle underwent extensive testing, received a full safety audit by the state, and was approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.  

In the event of an emergency, a safety steward always was on the shuttle, and this person was able to shift to a manual operation if necessary.

Relay did not operate in inclement weather, such as heavy rain and snow. Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) determined the operating status based on the severity of the weather and shared the shuttle's operating status on this webpage.

The health of our employees and passengers was a top priority for the Relay project. Specific strategies and actions to ensure a safe ride included:

  • Providing personal health and safety cleaning kits so Safety Operators could spot clean and disinfect high-touch areas on the vehicles, such as the seatbelts and handrails
  • Overnight deep cleaning and disinfection of the shuttle, following a master checklist
  • Honoring federal transportation guidelines regarding masks

About the Pilot Project

Fairfax County and Dominion Energy sought to learn about the various aspects of deploying autonomous electric vehicles as part of a large public transportation system. Many of the pilot projects goals included:

  • To support the County's strategic plan to grow and diversify the economy
  • To offer an innovative, first- and last-mile transportation option from transit hubs to employment, retail centers and residential communities
  • To support existing business sectors and spark new business growth
  • To encourage environmentally friendly transportation solutions
  • To learn more about how this technology can be safely and effectively used in the future to offer additional mobility solutions
  • To help familiarize people with new transportation technologies
  • To strengthen partnerships with technology experts, researchers, educational institutions and policy makers

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is committed to ensuring Virginia is on the forefront of new mobility innovations, including the deployment of autonomous transit. DRPT provided demonstration funds to offset the cost of operations and to evaluate how shuttles can provide critical first and last mile connections to transit.

Dominion Energy is committed to being a driver of change and supporting innovative projects that will both improve the environment and meet the needs of customers and the public. Electric vehicles, including autonomous electric shuttles, will play a major role in a lower-emissions transportation future in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the nation, and these innovative technologies will help Dominion Energy’s customers embrace environmental stewardship.

The free rides on Relay were possible thanks to a grant from DRPT and Dominion Energy, which provided the shuttle.

Project News and Information:

The shuttle served as a “first- and last-mile” connection between Metrorail and an award-winning mixed-use development, providing a convenient, environmentally-friendly transit option for shoppers, visitors and businesses. Since the shuttle is both autonomous and electric, it helped commuters reduce their environmental impact and play a role in a lower-emissions transportation future.

This pilot is a public-private partnership of local, state and private investments. Fairfax County received a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) that included $50,000 in county matching funds. Dominion Energy provided the shuttle and related charging infrastructure.

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