Driverless Bus Rolls Through Iowa City Intersection; No One Injured

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa – A driverless bus with about two dozen passengers rolled down a city block one week ago, crossed one of Iowa City's busiest streets and struck a traffic signal. Remarkably, no one was injured.

"It was a lucky occurrence," police Chief Sam Hargadine said Friday. "If something like this is going to happen, the fact that no one was hurt is amazing."

The accident involved Megabus, a company that provides discount rides between Chicago, Iowa City, Des Moines and Omaha.

Hargadine said it occurred at 11:13 a.m. last Saturday, July 28, at the intersection of Dubuque and Burlington Streets, which is near the Sheraton Iowa City Hotel downtown.

In 2010, the average daily traffic on Burlington Street between Dubuque and Linn streets was 20,300 vehicles, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. The area also sees heavy pedestrian traffic.

The accident is still under investigation and a full report has not been filed, but Hargadine said his understanding is the bus had offloaded passengers coming to Iowa City and at least 23 people had boarded the bus for another trip.

The driver excused herself, with Hargadine believing the driver went to the bathroom.

The bus was parked on Dubuque Street south of Burlington Street, which would be near the Megabus depot.

It somehow got in motion, rolled across Burlington Street and hit the traffic lights on the north side of the intersection. Those lights have been blinking yellow since then and should be fixed by Tuesday, according to the streets department.

The bus also clipped an unoccupied rental vehicle, Hargadine said.

Based on a diagram in the preliminary report, it appears the bus traveled at least double the width of the four-lane Burlington Street, Hargadine said.

How the bus started moving without the driver in it is under investigation, he said. No charges have been filed, he said.

A spokesman for a firm that handles public relations for Megabus said he had not heard of the incident. He said he'd forward a message to Megabus officials, who did not immediately call The Gazette Friday evening.

On Thursday, at least one person was killed and dozens injured when a Megabus bus struck a bridge pillar in Illinois, possibly after blowing a tire, according to news reports.

In February, a Megabus driver was sentenced to 77 days in jail for driving drunk while taking 77 passengers to Iowa City in October 2011.
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