Scotland is to host the trial of what is reportedly the first autonomous full-sized passenger bus fleet after Innovate UK announced funding to support a successful bid from bus operator Stagecoach along with partners Transport Scotland, Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL), Fusion Processing Ltd, ESP Group, Edinburgh Napier University, and University of the West of England.
The trial—to begin during 2019—will include five autonomous single-deck vehicles that will run between Fife and Edinburgh across the Forth Road Bridge.
The bus—operated by Stagecoach East Scotland—will be used autonomously to Level 4 standard, which means that a driver must remain onboard during any journey in line with UK regulations.
Funding of £4.35 million has been awarded by the UK Government through Innovate UK, with additional investment from operator Stagecoach, Transport Scotland, vehicle manufacturer ADL, technology company Fusion Processing Ltd, and mobility services specialist ESP Group.
Once complete, the 11.8 m (39 ft) ADL Enviro200 vehicles will operate between Ferrytoll Park & Ride facility in Fife and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange. The bus will use both on-road and hard shoulder running, and will use the dedicated public transport corridor across the Forth Road Bridge that allows buses and taxis to use dedicated lanes between the M9 near Newbridge and Halbeath in Fife.
The autonomous buses will provide a service capable of carrying up to 42 passengers 14 mi (22 km) across the Forth Bridge to Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange. With buses every 20 minutes, this could provide an estimated 10,000 weekly journeys.
Work on the project is expected to get underway during the second quarter of next year at ADL’s manufacturing depot in Guildford, with the first vehicles expected to go into service during 2020.
Stagecoach, ADL, and Fusion Processing announced earlier this year that work was underway to trial the first full-sized autonomous vehicle within a Stagecoach depot. Work on the vehicle is currently being carried out at ADL’s site in Guildford, and the bus is expected to be ready for use at the beginning of 2019.
In the short term, the bus will be used in autonomous mode only within the depot environment, to carry out movements such as parking and moving into the fueling station and bus wash. Using self-driving vehicles within depots more widely could help improve safety, efficiency, and space utilization within the depot.
Stagecoach says it has made a significant investment in new technologies to improve transport for customers and make its services more efficient. These investments include contactless payment technology on buses, automated vehicle location systems, and telematics technology.