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UK’s first autonomous self-driving bus trial to launch in Scotland on Monday

The bus will showcase and test autonomous technologies over the next two years (Stagecoach)
The bus will showcase and test autonomous technologies over the next two years (Stagecoach)

The UK’s first self-driving bus service is launching on Monday, May 15, in Scotland, following a 14-mile route from Edinburgh to Fife. The trial is also believed to be the first project of this complexity anywhere in the world that uses full-sized autonomous public buses.

Passengers will be able to take the new AB1 autonomous bus service, along the route between Ferrytoll Park & Ride, in Fife to Edinburgh Park Transport Interchange, over the next two years.

And in case you’re worried about safety, the bus isn’t just running by itself and can only travel at speeds up to 50mph. It will be used in mixed traffic, just like regular public transport.

Each bus will have two staff members aboard — a driver for safety who monitors the technology and can take over at any time, as well as a “captain” or conductor who will take tickets and answer questions from customers.

An on-board computer will do all the actual driving work, while the captain will aim to engage with customers and demonstrate what a fully autonomous public bus service might look like in the future.

AB1 is a collaboration between Transport Scotland, bus company Stagecoach, autonomous car software firm Fusion Processing, bus builder Alexander Dennis, Edinburgh Napier University, Bristol Robotics Lab, and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

Partly funded by the UK Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), the new bus service is the result of a decade’s research from Fusion Processing, which was spun off from UWE Bristol in 2012.

The firm developed its own autonomous control and sensor system CAVStar, which has so far completed 1.8 million kilometres in tests.

The Standard has contacted TFL for comment about whether self-driving buses are likely to come to London any time soon. London bus firm Abellio declined to comment.

Public bus transport in London has been a hot topic in the past 12 months, with several bus strikes due to pay issues and plans by the Mayor of London to change and cut certain bus routes.

Unite union, which represents many bus drivers in London, told The Standard that it is still likely to take many years before self-driving buses become commonplace.

“The ‘driverless’ bus running in between Fife and Edinburgh requires two members of staff to operate, double the number of staff on a regular bus,” said Unite national officer Robert Morton.

“Even when autonomous buses are widely adopted, trained and experienced drivers will need to be onboard at all times. They have a safety-critical role that cannot be replaced — passengers will still need human assistance and buses will still need someone to operate them if there is a fault or emergency.”

The union said it was, however, preparing for the impact of automation on workplaces, including the transport industry.

“We are developing strategies to ensure that jobs, pay and conditions are protected and improved as a response to disruptive technologies such as driverless buses,” he added.

“We are well aware that trade unions have a critical role in making sure automation does not just benefit employers to the detriment of workers and services for the public.”