To help develop the public transport of the future, an autonomous on-demand minibus service will soon get tested in three European cities. The new European consortium ULTIMO announced a project that will deploy 45 autonomous minibuses in three cities—Geneva, Switzerland; Kronach, Germany; and Oslo, Norway. It will receive 55 million euros over four years, of which 24 million comes from the European Commission and 16 million from the Swiss Confederation, with the rest coming from various industrial partners.
”In parallel with the day-to-day management of mobility in the Geneva conurbation, we are thinking about the public transport of the future,” Denis Berdoz, director general of Geneva Public Transport, said in a statement. ”We are convinced that the autonomous vehicle will play a growing role in traffic in the long term. This ambitious project should enable us to acquire the knowledge that is essential for understanding the future.”
ULTIMO aims to set up a full-scale autonomous public transport network, offering a door-to-door service. This new pilot project builds on the promising results of the promising AVENUE project, which ran between 2018 and 2022 at eight test sites in Europe.
”The aim of AVENUE was to study the technical and economic feasibility of an automated on-demand transport service as well as the potential psychological obstacles to its use,” Dimitri Konstantas, professor and director of the Information Science Institute of the Geneva School of Economics at the University of Geneva and associate coordinator and technical director of ULTIMO, said in a statement. “ULTIMO’s goal will be to develop a real business model that addresses the concrete economic, legal and security issues of such a service.”
In the beginning, ULTIMO will focus on solving concrete problems. These include ensuring the safety of passengers; the best responses in the event of accidents or incivilities in these unmanned shuttles; the prices for tickets when routes are on demand; the minimum and maximum distances for destinations; the legal framework, which currently does not allow automated buses to travel at more than 30 kilometers per hour; and standardizing the modeling of the autonomous vehicles’ territory so that it is compatible with the guidance systems of as many vehicles as possible, thus optimizing technical costs.
The second part of the project, to run from 2025 to 2026, will implement the autonomous transport service in the field. For example, in 2025, for one year, 15 driverless electric minibuses will be deployed in Geneva in an area yet to be confirmed. In Geneva, each shuttle will carry about 15 people, providing routes on demand 24 hours a day.
“It is an opportunity for the canton of Geneva and for Geneva Public Transport to take part in this avant-garde international project, which can usefully renew and broaden the public transport offer in the context of the profound changes that our mobility will undergo in the years to come,” Serge Dal Busco, state councillor of the Republic and Canton of Geneva in charge of the Department of Infrastructure, said in a statement.
ULTIMO noted the widespread introduction of autonomous public transport would have many advantages.
”By offering door-to-door, on-demand, 24-hour transport, the service would be of higher quality,” Konstantas said in a statement. “It would also avoid empty trips during off-peak hours and thus reduce some costs. Finally, by responding to demand in real time, queuing and congestion around stations could be avoided. This is a real paradigm shift in public transport.”