While driverless cars are often in the limelight, shared autonomous buses and shuttles are fast gaining traction, with increasing trials to ensure they are city-ready and effective in overcoming transportation challenges. Hoe Yeen Teck, Head of Autonomous Solutions at ST Engineering, outlines three key benefits of autonomous buses.
One of the key goals of the public transportation system is to increase connectivity, including intra-cities and first/last mile commutes. It is especially important in large and dense cities, where most residents depend on public transport to get around.
This is where the role of autonomous shuttles will be most beneficial. They help to increase the frequency of public buses travelling on fixed routes.
Besides plying fixed routes, autonomous shuttles also hold the potential for dynamic routing by offering various transport services and applications through the Autonomous Shuttles-as-a-Service (ASaaS) model.
The on-demand service can be an optimal mode of transportation in areas that are not traditionally served by public buses to extend the reach of public transportation. Autonomous vehicles are also able to function round-the-clock, as they have low to no downtime. This helps to improve accessibility by complementing the current public transport network and enhancing the transport infrastructure connectivity of cities worldwide.
Safety is of utmost concern in transportation. As autonomous vehicles go through rigorous rounds of testing and global safety standards are being set to ensure safer navigation, studies have shown that they are more likely to improve than worsen safety on the road. The simple reason is that autonomous vehicles can greatly reduce the risk of human error, which is one of the key causes of road accidents.
According to one comprehensive study on road safety, human error was the sole cause in 57% of all accidents and contributed to over 90% of these accidents.
With artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, advanced algorithms, sensors and various autonomous vehicle technologies deployed to ensure stringent safety adherence during operation, self-driving vehicles are more likely to reduce the number of vehicle-related injuries and accidents. The improved road safety could also lead to a more efficient and optimised land transport ecosystem with fewer congestions and disruptions caused by road accidents.
Autonomous buses are likely to pave the way for more sustainable urban transportation. On-demand autonomous shuttles can be booked in advance or when needed. It reduces unnecessary trips carried out by fixed-route buses or buses that serve low-demand areas. The demand and supply of public transport services are better matched to optimise limited transport resources.
With connected vehicle technology that enables more informed driving, autonomous shuttles could communicate with the surrounding environment through infrastructures and other vehicles for smoother driving, without frequently braking and accelerating. This can reduce carbon emissions due to unnecessary idling on the road and delays caused by traffic accidents.
These are just some scenarios of how autonomous buses can reduce wasted bus trips and the number of private vehicles on the road, making these buses a more environmentally-friendly transport option for cities. In the long term, this will also help cities achieve economies of scale from the shared use of infrastructure and services.
Although shared autonomous vehicles will not put an end to a city’s congestion and pollution woes, they promise a more efficient transportation solution with better accessibility and greater convenience for commuters. They potentially hold the key to safer roads and eventually pave the way for a car-lite community, transforming the way we travel and live.