Americans may soon get a better glimpse of the future of eco-friendly transportation by visiting an American national park.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday signed a joint pledge to test some of the latest and most innovative travel technology on public lands and improve the tourism experience for visitors.
In multi-million dollar pilot programs made available by the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure law and other federal spending, visitors to national parks could see self-driving shuttles, as well as scooter stations. or electric bicycles and electric charging stations for zero emission cars.
New real-time information being developed through the app would notify visitors of road closures and parking availability, or provide a step-by-step guide to bus or carpooling locations for those who wish to leave their vehicle. car behind them.
Yellowstone National Park, which has seen a record number of visitors this year, is expected to see some of the most immediate changes, with more sites to follow.
The effort comes as U.S. national parks have seen visits soar this year from pandemic-weary travelers seeking the wide-open outdoor refuge. But that adds to the traffic jams and the potential pressure on the surrounding environment.
“As our national parks and public lands see a wave of visits, we need to be innovative in our approaches to welcome people from all zip codes, while ensuring that these natural and cultural resources are passed on to future generations,” said Haaland. The partnership between Cabinet departments can help advance “innovations and access to public spaces,” she said.
His department said it was working to replace its 20-year-old National Park Service shuttle fleet with electric vehicles, a process started earlier this year. In February, for example, park officials said they would look to add 26 electric shuttles and 27 charging stations to Zion National Park in Utah with the help of a $ 33 million transportation grant. .
Buttigieg said the joint initiative “will keep our most precious national wonders accessible and safe for all Americans.”
Over the summer, Yellowstone was the first to launch a limited test of eight-passenger automated shuttles. The shuttles, which ran 6 to 12 miles per hour and moved inside the Canyon Village campground and adjacent visitor accommodation area, had a safety attendant on board to brake in. unforeseen danger. The fleet has experienced its busiest season ever with around 4.8 million visits so far in 2021. Due to increasing traffic, demand for vehicles is expected to exceed current fleet capacity by now. 2023, with roads and parking lots already overcapacity during peak months.
The bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden this week provides up to $ 1.5 billion a year for the National Park Service, as well as $ 200 million a year in discretionary grants aimed in part to combat the climate change and protect wildlife.
This is in addition to the $ 1.9 billion a year over five years approved by Congress last year for long-delayed renovation projects in national parks, national forests and other sites that have spurred recent construction. across the country, including the widening of the trail in Washington.