Driverless bus trial to kick off in Sydney this month

The trial is part of the NSW government's vision for a 'technology-enabled transport future', the state's transport minister said on Wednesday.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

A driverless shuttle bus will hit NSW roads as part of a two-year trial at Sydney Olympic Park.

Scheduled to begin later this month, the trial will start with safety checks before the public are able to ride on the autonomous vehicle, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said on Wednesday.

"Today we drive our cars but the reality is cars will soon drive us, and, while we are not there yet, we need to be prepared for this change and we need to stay ahead of the game," Constance added.

The trial is a part of the NSW government's vision for "a technology-enabled transport future", the transport minister added.

In July, Constance questioned whether building large motorways is wise with the imminent arrival of driverless vehicles.

"We should be asking ourselves the question: Do we really need to be building four and five-lane motorways today when automation could completely change the thinking?" Constance said at the time.

NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey, however, said the future was unpredictable and infrastructure still needed to be built.

"Sydney still needs a good efficient road work system that can use driverless cars that can have public transport and that can deal with the population growth that we're expecting," Pavey said on Wednesday.

In May, Jacinta Hargan, director of the Future Transport Program at Transport for NSW, said autonomous vehicles and AI platforms are the future of mass transit in the state.

Speaking at Forrester CX Sydney, Hargan said the state government's future transport technology roadmap is based on four potential "futures".

The first is a future where personally owned autonomous vehicles dominate the roads; the second where people share ownership of connected and autonomous vehicles; the third involves vehicle ownership no longer being important, with lifestyles based around mass transit; and the fourth where technology reduces the need to travel.

As the first scenario could lead to increased congestion on roads, the second and third scenarios with their focus on sharing is what Transport for NSW is betting on and looking to encourage, Hargan said in May.

"Rather than individual ownership, we see more fleet ownership of automated vehicles, and we also see more services like Uber and the like using automated vehicles. This plays out as a much better scenario from a transport perspective," Hargan added.

To make this a reality, Transport for NSW is looking to develop flexible and shared-use transport models based on aggregated demand; support the adoption of autonomous vehicles and infrastructure that deploys automation; and create AI-powered transport networks that manage demand, optimise capacity, and improve flows.

Hargan stressed that data is core to delivering on all of these goals.

Driverless bus trials have already commenced in other states; the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia kicked off Australia's first driverless electric bus trial in August last year with support from the state government and the City of South Perth.

The vehicle, known as the RAC Intellibus, is able to carry up to 11 passengers and operates at an average speed of 25 kilometres per hour. It uses light detection and ranging, stereovision cameras, GPS, odometry, and autonomous emergency braking to detect and avoid obstacles.

The South Australian government, in partnership with Adelaide Airport, also launched a AU$2.8 million trial of driverless shuttle buses in March, similar to the RAC Intellibus, to transport passengers to and from the airport's terminal and the long-term carpark.

Should the trials prove successful, the state government said the driverless shuttles will become a permanent part of the airport's operations, replacing the airport's current diesel-powered shuttle buses.

Another driverless bus trial transporting passengers around popular tourist spots in Darwin has entered its second phase, although with a driver still on board for safety. According to the ABC, more than 3,500 passengers had ridden the bus since the trial began in January.

Victorian tolling company Transurban also began testing autonomous vehicles on state roads this year to understand how the cars interact with real-life road conditions such as overhead lane signals, electronic speed signs, and line markings.

With AAP

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