Passengers travel on full-size self-driving bus in UK first

Operator Stagecoach said 22 volunteers were taken on a journey by the autonomous vehicle across the Forth Road Bridge as part of testing.

20 January 2023

Passengers have travelled on a full-size self-driving bus for the first time in the UK.

Operator Stagecoach said 22 volunteers were taken on a journey by its autonomous single-decker over the Forth Road Bridge near Edinburgh on Thursday as part of testing.

The bus has sensors enabling it to run on pre-selected roads without a driver having to take control.

It is part of the CAVForth project which is expected to have five self-driving buses run timetabled services between Ferrytoll park-and-ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park train and tram interchange via the bridge from the spring.

The buses will cover the 14-mile route in mixed traffic at speeds of up to 50mph, with capacity for around 10,000 journeys per week.

Passengers who travelled on the bus during the test journey were part of a co-design panel consisting of local bus users providing ideas on how an autonomous service should work.

The 22 volunteers who travelled on the bus
Twenty-two volunteers travelled on the bus (Stagecoach/PA)

Fleur Dijkman, who rode on the bus after joining the panel through a forum for young people, said: “I wasn’t worried at all about it.

“You wouldn’t know the difference between this and a normal bus from the driving.

“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.

“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.”

The on-road testing follows successful depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation which Stagecoach said put the autonomous buses through their paces to fine-tune the drive systems.

When fully operational, each bus will have an experienced driver monitoring the system alongside a bus captain who will help passengers with boarding, buying tickets and any queries.

Forth bridges
The bus travelled across the Forth Road Bridge (PA)

Stagecoach is partnering with Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis and Transport Scotland for the project, and the scheme has won the financial support of the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Ivan McKee, the Scottish Government’s business minister, 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.”

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