Self-driving bus project to test journeys without staff on board

A project developing what the Government believes will be the world’s first full-size self-driving bus service will test if smaller vehicles can operate without a staff member on board.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) said the Edinburgh scheme will be expanded after becoming one of seven autonomous passenger and freight vehicle programmes to win a share of £81 million in combined Government and industry funding.

Five self-driving single-decker buses will begin carrying members of the public between Ferrytoll park and ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park train and tram interchange via the Forth Road Bridge from the spring.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said ‘this is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy’ (PA)

These will be captained services, meaning a member of staff will be on the vehicle to help passengers with boarding, buying tickets and queries.

Beis said the new funding will enable the CAVForth II project to test deployments with smaller vehicles which “could operate with no staff on board”.

Bus operator Stagecoach said the 14-mile route launching in spring will be extended to Dunfermline city centre.

That will take the total distance to nearly 20 miles and feature more complex autonomous driving scenarios with busy A and B roads and city centre traffic.

Hub2Hub, another scheme to get funding, is developing self-driving hydrogen-powered lorries in partnership with supermarket Asda.

Testing of the vehicles, which would be controlled by a remote driver, is due to begin next year.

Other self-driving vehicle projects awarded funding are based in Belfast, Cambridge and across Solihull and Coventry, while there are two in Sunderland.

All the schemes will be expected to demonstrate they are capable of sustainable commercial services by 2025.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: “In just a few years’ time, the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across the UK.

“This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize.

“The support we are providing today will help our transport and technology pioneers steal a march on the global competition by turning their bright ideas into market-ready products sooner than anyone else.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Self-driving vehicles including buses will positively transform people’s everyday lives – making it easier to get around, access vital services and improve regional connectivity.

“We’re supporting and investing in the safe rollout of this incredible technology to help maximise its full potential while also creating skilled jobs and boosting growth in this important sector.”

The Government says it is committed to introducing legislation that will enable the safe use of self-driving vehicles on UK roads.