Two days ago, the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe launched the “Sea Mile Project“, wherein a self-driving bus is being tested in everyday traffic on a 600-meter-long route “Am Tegeler Hafen”. At the same time, another project with autonomous buses has failed. The French capital Paris has now ended a trial with self-driving minibuses that started in 2017. The reason given by the city administration for the end of the trial, which was carried out in collaboration with the transport company île -de-France Mobilités (IDFM) and the transport company Keolis, was that the overall balance was not satisfactory.

The French manufacturer Navya’s buses had been on the road in the La Défense district since July 2017 and were originally well received by the passengers. In the first six months, the shuttle was a great success and transported more than 30,000 passengers. In a September 2017 survey, 97% said they were satisfied with the service and 88% said they wanted to use the minibus again. From June 2018 to May 2019, however, only 11,865 passengers boarded the bus. Too few, considering the declared goal was to “find a mobility solution for the neighborhood”. After the novelty had dropped off, people lost interest in the bus and another reason was that is was simply too slow.

© Navya

Snail’s Pace

And this snail’s pace was the crux of the matter. “The speed of the shuttle has not been improved so that it makes the service more appealing,” Le Parisien quotes what the city council said. Theoretically, the shuttle could go up to 40 km/h. But the average speed of the shuttle was just 7 km/h.

Moreover, the mobile phone connection was also too unreliable due to the numerous skyscrapers, and the vehicle had difficulties adapting to new environmental conditions, such as new and unknown routes as a result of the Christmas market. For these reasons, the minibuses could never really drive autonomously and there always had to be an attendant available for monitoring. Other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, and service vehicles had also led to problems. “The technology could not adapt to changes in the urban environment”, and therefore the “overall rating is unsatisfactory”, said Paris La Défense.

The buses operated from July 2017 to May 2019, with an interruption due to technical problems between December 2017 and June 2018, and carried 45,500 passengers in total. The driverless minibuses covered 9,900 kilometers in these 15 months, according to IDFM, .

Despite this failed experiment, Paris does not want to give up just yet. “It was only an experiment and there were never any plans to keep the service running forever,” emphasizes a spokesman for the île-de-France Mobilités. Perhaps La Défense was simply “too complex an environment” whereby the autonomous shuttles should no longer be used. But more such experiments will take place, especially in Saclay. And IDFM announces that an autonomous vehicle will soon be tested in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

Trial projects in Germany

Unlike the trial with Navya shuttles in Paris, a shuttle from the French manufacturer EasyMile is being used in Berlin and, according to the Berliner Zeitung. Another route in the Reinickendorf district will be tested this summer. Yet Navya shuttles also operate in Germany. For instance, at the Charité Clinic in Berlin and in Mainz. Trial tests with Navya vehicles was brought to a halt in July after an accident with a pedestrian in Vienna. However, another Navya shuttle has been running quite successfully in Las Vegas since 2017 – free of charge by the way – and runs on a route including eight stops, six traffic lights, and two stop signs.

In the Netherlands, tests have been carried out in the Rivium business park (Capelle aan de IJssel) and Wageningen (the WUR campus), among other places. In Rivium the vehicles are temporarily out of service in anticipation of an improved version whereas the Wageningen experiment is considered to have failed. The WEpods used there were then used at the German airport Weeze. The Netherlands also plays a role via the Utrecht-based producer 2getthere, which exports its self-driving buses all over the world.

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