New South Wales’ first driverless shuttle bus will be made available for public use at Sydney Olympic Park, the state government has announced.
State roads minister Melinda Pavey said, “We want to use the trial to help develop the systems that will enable automated vehicles to be connected to our infrastructure, like traffic lights, and to our customers through their devices and applications.”
“It’s the combination of connectivity and automation that will provide the safety and mobility benefits we are looking for.”
The trial is being funded by the NSW government’s Smart Innovation Centre, a “hub for collaborative research” that investigates emerging transportation technology.
The bus is not Australia’s first. In 2016 a road safety advocacy group imported a driverless shuttle, which traveled down a pre-programmed route on the South Perth foreshore. Other driverless shuttle bus trials have taken place on the Darwin waterfront and at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
Critics of driverless or autonomous cars have argued that making planning decisions on the basis of an unproven technology could lead planners and policy makers to underinvest in public transport.
Writing for The Conversation in 2015, Curtin University Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman argued that driverless technology might best be used for “last mile” or “first mile” trips that connect people to public transport.
Newman said, “Cities can save time and reduce road accidents if they spend their precious infrastructure resources on fast rail that can go around, under or over traffic, and create highly walkable, pedestrian-friendly city centres and sub-centres.”
“It means that new rail lines and new centres need to be built deep into car-based suburbs struggling to find a disruptive transport system.”
“Autonomous vehicle ‘taxis’ could find an important niche with their demand-responsive system. Such vehicles could be electric along with the trains making an oil-free, equitable and efficient system.”
In the US, ride-sharing company and Uber-analogue Lyft partnered with public transport providers after finding that large numbers of its users were using the service to access transit.
The government has tabled legislation to pave the way for the trial, which is expected to begin later this month.