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UK’s first full size autonomous bus starts carrying passengers

Monday, January 23, 2023 - 06:09
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Stagecoach, the UK’s largest bus and coach operator has today (Friday 20 January) announced that it has successfully transported its first group of passengers in a ground-breaking trial in East Scotland.

The project, named CAVForth, which is part funded by UK Governments Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, will be the first registered service in the UK to use full sized autonomous buses. A fleet of five Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV vehicles will cover a 14-mile route, in mixed traffic, at up to 50mph across the iconic Forth Road Bridge from Ferrytoll Park & Ride, in Fife to Edinburgh Park Transport Interchange.

Once registered, the service will operate a frequent timetable with the capacity for around 10,000 journeys per week.

As part of the extensive testing process, Stagecoach invited a group of passengers from its Co-Design Panel to travel on the route to get feedback and share any views or improvements ahead of the full public launch of the service in the spring. The Co-Design Panel is a diverse group of local bus users who have volunteered to help Stagecoach and its project partners design how an autonomous bus service should work. Their insights and advice have informed key aspects of the autonomous vehicle trial. Examples of how they have supported the project include:

  • The introduction of a ‘bus captain’ in the saloon to reassure and help passengers with their queries, boarding and purchasing their tickets.
  • Helping develop the eye-catching livery to stand out on the on the road.
  • The design of communications and marketing materials which aim to build trust and share what to expect from the service in a simple, understandable way.

Fleur, who joined the panel through a forum for young people said: “This is something I never thought I would be involved with. I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to share my opinions and bring my thoughts forward – and it’s brilliant to see it come through and become this actual thing from a few drawings!

“It was quiet exciting, the thought of getting on for the first time, I wasn’t worried at all about it – you wouldn’t know the difference between this and a normal bus from the driving.”

Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise Ivan McKee said: “This is another hugely significant step forward for the CAVForth project that brings us closer to these autonomous vehicles entering service.

“It has been really encouraging to watch the project develop through the various steps, from early testing and demonstrations through to carrying of passengers along the route for the first time.

“Our trunk road network can provide a wide range of environments as a diverse testing ground, and the ground-breaking and globally significant Project CAVForth will really help Scotland establish its credentials on the world stage.”

Louise Simpson, Operations Director and CAVForth lead project manager for Stagecoach, said: “We are really excited to have reached this next major milestone in our project plan to deliver the UK’s first full sized autonomous bus, which has seen us successfully carry a group of passengers on one of the new buses. Until today, only project team members had been able to trial the autonomous service so it’s great that our Co-Design Panel have had this opportunity and we welcome any views they have to ensure we deliver a great, inclusive, and accessible service to our customers when we launch in the spring.”

Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing CEO, said: “This is a significant milestone in the pilot and paves the way to next phase of the programme. Projects such as CAVForth, combined with our ongoing work highlights Fusion’s leadership in the automation of buses, HGVs and freight tugs, in each case offering fleet operators enhanced safety and operational efficiency.”

CAVForth is part funded by the UK Governments Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and is a proud partnership between Stagecoach, Fusion Processing Ltd, Alexander Dennis, Transport Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University, Bristol Robotics Lab & the University of the West of England.

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