New public transit coming to Rochester

Rachel Mills
Created: April 12, 2021 05:43 PM

(ABC 6 News) - Getting around in Minnesota winters challenges all of us, but now that it's spring, the state is introducing something new.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be testing a new circulator shuttle in downtown Rochester this summer.

"It's going to be a year-long pilot, so if we start in August or September this year, we'll go all the way to next year. Part of that is we want to navigate a whole true Minnesota winter," Kristin White, the executive director of MnDOT's autonomous and connected vehicle office, said. 

This shuttle is very different. It has no driver, holds up to six passengers and circulates from Mayo campus to South Broadway connecting Mayo employees and patients to shops and restaurants downtown. 

"We're actually one of the states that's leading the country and we're trying to help the industry understand the various challenges Minnesotans face. Snow on the streets, not even being able to get to their vehicle or even the bus," White said.  

The test will start with a driver on board, but the goal is to eventually run the shuttle autonomously. 

White said it will be safe, even during a pandemic. 

"We're still going to be taking a lot of precautions to make sure these vehicles are clean, sanitized, that people are wearing masks to protect others," White said.  

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said it's about time. 

"As we become a larger city, more people will want to travel on the infrastructure we already have. And it's very limiting, so how do we get people safely around a city with older infrastructure," Norton said.  

Mayor Norton also has her eyes on a much larger project for the future.

"I still talk a lot about high-speed rail connecting Rochester with the twin cities, and eventually connecting Rochester to Chicago or further east," Norton said.  

She also said everyone benefits from faster transit and less car emission on the freeway. 

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