Varberg can be one of the first municipalities in Sweden to introduce self-driving buses in regular traffic. It is hopped to be able to offer passengers a self-driving solution during a major building project in the town centre.
Self-driving buses have been used on the streets of Kista, a suburb of Stockholm, and in the area around Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. However, these have only been trials to hone the technology and see how the buses function in traffic. Next year, self-driving buses may be in traffic to provide regular services.
“Varberg Municipality is planning major building works, including relocating a port and constructing a new urban district. There is a risk of disruption in and around the town centre and we are looking at various solutions. A self-driving bus could make life easier for both residents and visitors,” says Jonas da Silva, head of development at Varberg Municipality.
RISE has recently conducted a pilot study of how the solution might be put into practice. It is now up to politicians to decide whether the project will become a reality.
“There is a positive attitude towards the scheme and I hope that these buses will become a part of our public transport network. If so, they can enter service sometime during 2019, in conjunction with the start of the building project”, says Jonas da Silva.
It is intended that the buses will provide a shuttle service for commuters travelling to and from Varberg. A park-and-ride scheme will be introduced, with car parks on the outskirts of the town and self-driving buses serving the town centre. This will also reduce car traffic in Varberg. Although the concept itself is similar to a normal part-and-ride scheme, the difference is in the cost.
“A standard bus could also operate on the route; however, one of the major costs is drivers. Using a self-driving bus allows us to solve the logistical problem during construction work, while at the same time utilising a modern, environmentally friendly and cheap service,” says Jonas da Silva.
The hope is that the self-driving buses will remain in service after the building project is completed.
“This is an excellent opportunity to test self-driving vehicles in regular traffic. We have many commuters in Varberg and we hope that they will notice how well the service works and be inspired to leave their cars at home entirely, rather than using the park-and-ride scheme. This is not an exercise to demonstrate the bus itself, we want to solve a practical problem. We put a great deal of work into sustainability issues in the municipality and this is an extension of that,” explains Jonas da Silva, who thinks that many people seem to have a positive attitude to autonomous-vehicle technology.
“A few years ago, the man on the street was probably more worried about the safety aspects; however, the technology has developed and as more people try it they also gain a different perspective on self-driving vehicles.
Birger Löfgren is a researcher at RISE, as well as the project manager for Drive Sweden, a participant in the pilot study. He also meets many people who are positive.
“I recently received an email from a teacher who wanted to take 54 children for a test drive on board a robot bus – as they called it,” says Birger Löfgren. He points out the particular importance of involving children and young people in the new technology, given that it is they who will benefit from it in the future.
“It’s great to be able to inspire kids; after all, they’re the ones who will grow up with this,” concludes Birger Löfgren.