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The newest form of transportation at JFK Airport? No planes, but self-driving shuttles.

The newest form of transportation at JFK Airport? No planes, but self-driving shuttles.
The newest form of transportation at JFK Airport? No planes, but self-driving shuttles.

All aboard: Driverless shuttles are coming to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

Two self-driving shuttles, each capable of carrying eight seated passengers, will begin transporting passengers for free in one of the airport’s massive parking lots next week as part of a pilot program to test the technology, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.

The shuttles, owned by New Zealand company Ohmio, are scheduled to operate throughout the summer and will carry signs indicating they are autonomous. They will also have onboard security personnel to greet and guide passengers. They currently work as JFK shuttle bus drivers under contract with another company.

This is the next step in a series of tests of self-driving vehicles at local airports operated by the Port Authority, officials said. Previous tests, including at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, were conducted in empty parking lots with no passengers.

Travelers dropping off or picking up their cars at JFK Airport’s Lot 9 – a massive long-term parking lot connected to the Lefferts Boulevard and Howard Beach AirTrain stations – can hop on the autonomous shuttles at any of more than a dozen stops that also serve human-driven shuttles.

Seth Wainer, program director for innovation at the Port Authority, said the goal is to serve more of the airport’s customers. He said the authority will not reduce its staff because of the technology.

“We’re looking at a situation where vehicles can safely transport passengers throughout the airport area. We’re hoping that there’s not just one driver stuck in one vehicle, but that there’s a driver supervising more than one vehicle and really making sure people are actually getting in and out,” he said.

Next week, the blue and yellow shuttles will drive around the site individually, but more will be added later to form “platoons,” Wainer added. According to the Port Authority, this is only the second time self-driving vehicles have been publicly tested in New York City, following a program at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2019.

The agency describes the shuttles as “big lima beans with wheels” that turn on at the push of a button and are controlled by a joystick when driving manually. They have standing room for more than eight passengers, but during testing, occupants are asked to sit and wear seat belts for safety reasons.

The Port Authority has been testing self-driving vehicles since 2022, when it piloted autonomous buses in and out of the Lincoln Tunnel on its exclusive bus lane, and last year at JFK, when it began testing a train of Ohmio shuttles.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has approved the use of the shuttles to transport passengers in the airport’s parking lot 9, the agency said.