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Beverly Hills: Rich, famous – and autonomous?

Will this road soon be the Rodeo Self-Drive? (Photo: iStock / Anna Bryukhanova)

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Angelo Rychel
Angelo Rychel
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Beverly Hills is known as a retreat for actors and L.A. celebrities. Soon it could also be known for a visionary project: autonomous public transportation. In an interview with 2025AD, mayor John Mirisch reveals the city’s unique plan.

In his former role as a movie studio executive, John Mirisch was used to turning bold ideas into reality. As mayor of the star-studded Southern Californian city of Beverly Hills, Mirisch seems to follow a similar approach. In April, Beverly Hill’s City Council approved the mayor’s plan to develop a public transportation system with autonomous vehicles. “We can’t solve future or even today’s problems using technology of the past,” Mirisch said after the resolution was passed.

Beverly Hills, which is surrounded by Los Angeles, is home to 35,000 residents – many of them wealthy and famous. “But during the day time, the population swells up to 250,000”, Mirisch told 2025AD – tourists and workers make up a big chunk of that. This makes traffic an issue in Beverly Hills – one of the reasons why Mirisch is a staunch supporter of autonomous driving.

2025AD: Why exactly will autonomous vehicles be coming to Beverly Hills?

John Mirisch: We have passed a resolution to develop a municipal autonomous shuttle system – and we are the first city in the United States to do so! This will serve the mobility needs of our residents and the people who visit Beverly Hills.

John Mirisch, Mayor of Beverly Hills

2025AD: Why not use traditional public transport?

Mirisch: We are scheduled to get our first subway station by 2023 which will connect Beverly Hills with Los Angeles. But we thought ahead: if our residents want to use the subway, they need a way to get there. In the US, many stations have park-and-ride facilities but this had not been planned for Beverly Hills. So we face the so-called first/last mile challenge. We believe that an autonomous shuttle system can be the solution; and our hope is that it will be fully deployed by the time the subway station opens We are suggesting an on-demand, point-to-point system that would offer a hyperlocal solution that other communities could adopt.

2025AD: How would the people of Beverly Hills benefit from this shuttle system?

Mirisch: Public transportation in the United States is different than in Europe. Especially in Los Angeles, it is a second-class form of transportation. It’s for people who cannot afford cars or cannot drive. In Europe, public transit is often the first choice because it is the most efficient and convenient way to get from place to place. We aim to change the way people look at public transportation in the US.

2025AD: What will be needed to change people’s feelings about it?

Mirisch: Right now, the commuter has to adapt to the system. We are looking to create a system that adapts to the needs of the commuters. That is a complete paradigm shift. Beyond revolutionizing public transportation, autonomous mobility brings other advantages, like improved road safety. It will also increase mobility for disabled or blind people. And we plan to provide further intelligent technology. For instance, we could add closed-circuit cameras to our shuttles that would automatically alert the police if anything inappropriate is happening.

2025AD: How do you expect autonomous driving to affect the traffic situation in your city?

Mirisch: If we get enough people to use our shuttle, people will be leaving their cars at home and that will solve one of our greatest problems: traffic. If you have ever been to Beverly Hills during rush hour, you know that traffic is one of our biggest downsides.

2025AD: Your resolution is a legal framework for Beverly Hills. But it still depends on whether Californian and federal laws will be adapted to allow for autonomous vehicles.

Mirisch: That is why we work with state and national authorities to keep safety concerns a priority. We want to connect with regional transit authorities as well. Los Angeles alone will spend 130 billion dollars on infrastructure within the next 50 years. When funding is being raised to build transportation systems we want to make sure that enough resources are devoted to disruptive technologies like autonomous vehicles. Unfortunately, when lawmakers are talking about building the infrastructure of the next 100 years, their proposals use the technology of the past 100 years.

The City Council recently approved the mayor's plan. (Photo: Fotolia / Atomazul)

2025AD: What makes Beverly Hills a suitable location for an autonomous lighthouse project?

Mirisch: Our community is ideal to start a pilot program. We have an area of 5.7 square miles, so we are fairly compact. We have a great road system and we are investing in our own municipal fiber optics network. We will have roads with high speed connectivity throughout the city which will enable vehicles to easily communicate with each other and their environment. We feel it’s all there!

2025AD: Can you reveal what the autonomous shuttles might look like?

Mirisch: We have not designed a vehicle yet but the shuttles will probably have seats for 8 to 12 passengers. We want the vehicles to be fully autonomous. People will hail them by smartphone. For residents who do not have a smartphone, seniors for instance, we will work out a different solution.

2025AD: When will we see the shuttles on the streets of Beverly Hills?

Mirisch: We want the shuttles to be in place when the subway line opens in 2026. If we can start the system before the opening, we would go for that!

2025AD: Who will produce those vehicles? In a press release, you stated that Beverly Hills will seek to develop partnerships with autonomous vehicle manufacturers like Google or Tesla.

Mirisch: We definitely see a lot of interest from private companies who want to work with us. We need to talk to all of the players first. But we want to be in a position that means as soon as autonomous driving is allowed, we are there. We are hoping for a snowball effect: that other transportation agencies and other cities will be interested. The more who share this vision, the sooner it will happen.

Beverly Hills is known for its palm tree lined streets. (Photo: Fotolia / f11photo)

2025AD: Will there also be private self-driving cars coming to Beverly Hills?

Mirisch: I assume that the main focus of autonomous vehicles will ultimately be private. There are a lot of private car makers that are working on their own autonomous vehicles. We are not aiming to supplant that but rather to complement it. Still, we think people will be happy to use our municipal shuttle system. It will at first run within the borders of Beverly Hills. For further distances it may make sense to use private autonomous vehicles. But my feeling is that after we prove that the concept works there may be a way of expanding it throughout Southern California.

2025AD: San Francisco and Silicon Valley have established a reputation for pushing autonomous vehicles forward. How will Beverly Hills position itself in this “competition”?

Mirisch: We are not developing the technology. There are a lot of companies competing in this area, but there are very few cities that are considering how it will work in the field of public transportation. So we are not competing with other cities. We have started numerous talks with Silicon Valley. We have invited people here and I am travelling to the Valley regularly.

2025AD: Many people think of Beverly Hills as a wealthy L.A. enclave and a retreat for Hollywood A-listers. How do you co-operate with the local community? Do you think you will struggle to gain public acceptance?

Mirisch: There is a certain stereotype of Beverly Hills. Indeed, we have Hollywood A-listers and some very wealthy people. But what a lot of people do not know is that 55 to 60 percent of our residents are renters. A lot of people live in multi-family houses. It’s a more diverse community than people would know. I think all of our residents – from the extremely wealthy to those who are not as well off – are going to appreciate what this project can achieve.

2025AD: Let’s look ahead: How do you envision Beverly Hills road transport in 15 years’ time?

Mirisch: In 15 years we will have a subway, we will hopefully have our municipal autonomous shuttle system, there will be more autonomous vehicles deployed throughout Southern California and we will not have the kind of traffic jams of today anymore. We will be able to get from point A to point B in a very efficient and convenient manner. We are going to change people’s hearts and minds – the way they look at public transportation.

Will the deployment in public transit systems facilitate the breakthrough of autonomous driving technology? Or will private ownership play the decisive role? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

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