Tech News : Self-Driving Buses Now On UK Roads

22 passengers experienced the UK’s first full-size autonomous bus for the first time as part of a testing process by Stagecoach, the UK’s largest bus and coach operator.

Trial Over The Forth Bridge 

The ground-breaking trial of a full-size autonomous single-decker bus, carrying a mixture of invited members of the Co-Design Panel, volunteers helping Stagecoach plus the project’s partners took place on 20 January over the Forth Road Bridge near Edinburgh in East Scotland.

First Registered, Full Size Autonomous Bus Service 

The trial precedes the introduction of what will be the first registered service in the UK to use full sized autonomous buses, as part of the CAVForth project, which is part funded by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Up To 50mph 

The service will use a fleet of five Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV vehicles, covering a 14-mile route, in mixed traffic, at up to 50mph across the Forth Road Bridge from Ferrytoll Park & Ride in Fife to Edinburgh Park Transport Interchange. It is anticipated that that the service will operate a frequent timetable with the capacity for around 10,000 journeys per week.

Milestone In The UK 

Louise Simpson, Operations Director and CAVForth lead project manager for Stagecoach, said about the trial: “We are really excited to have reached this next major milestone in our project plan to deliver the UK’s first full sized autonomous bus, which has seen us successfully carry a group of passengers on one of the new buses. Until today, only project team members had been able to trial the autonomous service so it’s great that our Co-Design Panel have had this opportunity and we welcome any views they have to ensure we deliver a great, inclusive, and accessible service to our customers when we launch in the spring.”   

Already Operating In Other Parts Of The World 

Although the service will be a UK first, there are full size autonomous bus services operating in several cities around the world. Some examples include:

– In Europe, the French city of Lyon has been running a fleet of autonomous electric buses since 2018.

– In the United States, the city of Las Vegas has been operating a fleet of autonomous electric buses on a fixed route since 2017.

– In Asia, the city of Singapore has been testing autonomous buses on designated roads since 2016.

– In China, several cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Xiongan, have been testing and operating autonomous buses on the public roads.

It’s worth noting that the extent of autonomy varies between different systems, and some still require a human operator on board to take over in certain situations.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Up until now in the UK, a lot has been promised and expected with regards to autonomous vehicles, with multiple trials including self-driving cars, buses, and trucks. These trials, however, have primarily been conducted in controlled environments such as closed test tracks and designated testing zones, so a real road test of a full size bus with passengers, followed by the introduction of a regular service from this coming spring is a significant development in the UK.

For bus operators, an autonomous service on a fixed route could bring reduced operating costs and increased efficiency, hopefully improved safety, plus it could offer greater flexibility (24/7 operation), which could lead to increased service frequency and improved service quality. Also, operating a safe, successful, full size autonomous bus service in one part of the UK could increase confidence and lead to the introduction of similar services elsewhere.

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