Self-driving bus services take to the road

Driverless Electric Bus

Driverless electric bus

In what is believed to be a world first, not one but two autonomous bus services in the UK will be in operation by the end of this month.

In March, the first driverless electric bus opened to the public in Oxfordshire with the launch of a free shuttle service at Milton Keynes science park. Operated by First Bus, a 15-seat, single decker minibus that’s fully accessible for wheelchair and pushchair users, moves passengers around the site near Didcot, which is home to 250 companies and 9,000 employees. A qualified safety driver is always on board, who is able to take control of the vehicle, if required.

The £4.3million five-year project has been funded with the support of a £3 million grant from Government agency, Innovate UK. It is being developed alongside partners including Oxfordshire County Council, transport information company, Zipabout, Milton Park, automated vehicle systems provider, Fusion Processing, and the University of West England.  Journeys further afield to Didcot Parkway train station are expected to launch later in the year.

In Scotland, the first self-driving bus service will start on 15th May with the launch of the CAVForth Project, which is being operated by Stagecoach East Scotland. Five Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV autonomous buses will carry passengers on a 14-mile route between the Ferrytoll park-and-ride in Fife and Edinburgh Park transport interchange. That will involve them running at up to 50mph across the Forth Road Bridge, observing what the operator says will be “a frequent timetable” and delivering capacity for up to 10,000 passenger journeys per week. Two staff members will be aboard the buses when they are in service. A safety driver will be in the driver’s seat to monitor the technology and a ‘captain’ will be in the passenger area to check tickets and answer questions.

Stagecoach UK Managing Director Carla Stockton-Jones says: “We are excited to introduce the UK’s first autonomous bus fleet in East Scotland. We are proud to be at the forefront of transport innovation with this project that marks a significant milestone for public transport, and we look forward to welcoming our customers onboard in the coming months.”

The project is being delivered by a collaboration of partners, including Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis, Fusion Processing, Transport Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University and Bristol Robotics Lab. A further stage of the project – CAVForth2 – will see the existing route lengthened to serve Dunfermline, adding more complex driving scenarios. The work will involve the creation of an autonomous version of the Dennis battery-electric Enviro100EV – the Enviro100AEV.

Commenting on the launch of the self-driving bus services, John Dwight, Imperial Engineering’s Sales Director, said:

“It’s encouraging to see the steady progress being made to advance public transport through the collaboration of the bus industry with the relevant specialist agencies and technology providers. The launch of these autonomous services shows just how far our industry has developed in a short space of time and this is set to continue with the advancement of more zero-emission powertrains.  As a major distributor of OE parts to bus and coach customers nationwide, Imperial is adapting its product portfolio in response to demand as the industry transitions steadily towards a zero emission network.”