The city of Trikala, in central Greece, is the first in Europe to host a driverless bus in the city center.
It is part of CityMobil2, an EU-funded pilot project to revolutionise mass transport and wean Europe’s cities off oil dependency over the next 30 years. Each in turn, five different sites are hosting the 6-month pilot project.
The idea is not to replace ordinary buses but to offer a mixed transport service, with improved transport in areas of low or dispersed demand.
“We have accidents, we have traffic jams, we have pollution, and this can be solved by public transport. Unfortunately, public transport with drivers cannot solve everything and the missing piece to solve all these problems are automated vehicles,” says Carlos Holguin, project manager of CityMobil2.
The buses, which are built by French manufacturer Robosoft, are 5 meters long and 1.5 meters wide and can carry up to 10 people. They travel at a speed of about 20 km/hour and run along a 2.4 km route.
The vehicles are equipped with an advanced GPS and a laser mapping system for localization and movement control. Laser and ultrasound technologies are used to detect obstacles.
Each bus is powered by twelve batteries, which need around two hours to charge.
“It runs on an electric motor. The position is provided by laser-guided GPS. We have mapped the city and the bus follows the planned route centimeter by centimeter. If it meets an obstacle along the way, it is equipped with a laser security system that makes it either slow down or stop altogether,” says head technician on the project, Vasilis Karavidas.
Local authorities have launched a public awareness campaign to inform prospective passengers and motorists, even though some chose to ignore the directives and use the specially equipped bus lane anyway.
In the control room, everything is recorded. In the event of a problem, traffic police are called in or an authorised driver is sent to move the bus.
Despoina Samara is taking her sons to their English class. They usually ride on their bikes, but today the kids wanted to try out the bus: “It is completely silent. The bell which warns you that the bus is coming is the only sound I remember hearing. It moves quite fast. I thought it would have been much slower. My children were impressed, it’s a very smooth ride,” she says.
While Trikala has a long-running cycling tradition, the driverless bus pilot project met with some opposition – some argued it took up precious car parking spaces. But the town’s mayor, Dimitris Papastergiou, defends his choice: “Our citizens didn’t accept it immediately, they felt uneasy, and I understand that. It caused disruption, we had to install fiber optic lines and dig the streets again. But they’re gradually changing their mind, because they can see that Trikala is making headlines for good reasons.”
The buses will leave Trikala at the end of February and the bus lane will be turned into a bike lane. The Spanish city of Leon is the next stop on the long road ahead to
one day, perhaps, creating an efficient and clean public transport system in Europe’s cities.