The road is more or less made for it: one long straight stretch measuring 600 meters, with a green strip in the middle of the first few hundred meters which neatly separates the traffic to and from the harbor. Many cars do not drive there on the ‘Am Tegeler Hafen’ road as it is. It is therefore ideal for the first Berlin trial with a self-driving bus on a public road.

According to a spokesman from the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), trials have previously been carried out in towns and small cities in Germany. There are also two pilot projects in Berlin which involve autonomous buses operating on the private premises of the Charité and Virchow hospitals. “Yet these trials cannot be compared to the ‘Project See-Meile’ on Berlin’s public roads, where many other factors must be taken into account.” These pilot projects are more similar to, for example, the ParkShuttle in Rotterdam, which runs on a public bus lane and only has to pass a number of intersections. Or ‘the People Mover’, as the autonomous buses are also known as at the Frankfurt am Main Airport in Germany.

EasyMile

According to the BVG, this project is relatively unique. As of this week, the bus runs back and forth between the Alt-Tegel metro station and Lake Tegeler, one of the largest lakes in Berlin. The car from the French company EasyMile can only be described as cute. The bright white minibus – with six seats and a permanent supervisory staff member – travels at a speed of 15 kilometers per hour. Because yes, the bus is not allowed to drive around without an attendant. There’s no steering wheel in the bus, but the ‘Fahrbegleiter’ ( Travel Attendant) is always able to press an emergency button.

Cars behind the EasyMile minibus have to be patient. It just doesn’t go very fast. Photo Maurits Kuypers

People who would like to ride on it will have to be patient for a little while longer, because over the next few weeks test run data is needed before the line can be used ‘hopefully by the end of this month’, the BVG has announced.

Great for seniors

A lady in her eighties, with long white hair and a broad smile on her face, says she is already looking forward to it. “Walking at our age is of course healthy, but if you’ve just done some shopping and then have to go back home, the bus seems to be pretty handy”.

The route of Project See-Meile.

According to her, there are a lot of elderly people living along the bus route who would like to catch a ride just like she wants to. “Recently we had an informative meeting here organized by the BVG and it was packed. Interest in the neighborhood is enormous. And incidentally, I think it’s fun for tourists too …”

Tegel is more than just an airport

Many Dutch people might think of the airport with the same name when they hear the word Tegel, but Alt-Tegel is actually one of the favorite places for Berliners when they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city in the summer. Boat trips to Werder, Potsdam and Oranienburg are particularly popular among the elderly. Yet you can also walk along the Havel, go pedal boating, play miniature golf or have a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants. A tip for the Dutch: the bus is free!

During summer many people go on a day trip to Lake Tegeler. Photo Maurits Kuypers

According to the BVG we can’t expect that the bus will be running by next year. “It is a pilot project that will run until the end of this year. Then we’ll see what the next step is.”

Still many more questions

According to him, there are still many more questions yet to be answered before then. For example, does it really make sense to have a fully automated bus in addition to regular public transport for this comparatively short journey? What do local residents and users think of the bus? Are there any technical obstacles that need to be overcome?

If these kinds of questions are answered satisfactorily and in full, then as far as the BVG is concerned, the possibilities are not limited to this particular line passing through Alt-Tegel. Many other routes in Berlin may come under consideration where the minibus could be introduced. The technology is already very good, the BVG says. The minibus is not allowed to drive as fast, nevertheless, the battery will last for 10 hours. And by using the so-called ‘Lidar sensors’, safety is optimally guaranteed. All that is left to do, is to iron out the initial problems.

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