SINGAPORE – Commuters can now take driverless buses in two areas of Singapore for a small fee, in the first such trial since Singapore began experimenting with autonomous vehicles on the roads in 2015.
The new bus services, headed by ST Engineering, are operated by big players SMRT and SBS Transit, in Singapore Science Park 2 near Haw Par Villa and on Jurong Island respectively.
It is the first time driverless bus rides will be collecting fares from passengers and generating revenue, and is a major step aimed at giving stakeholders knowledge on what is needed for these buses to be rolled out commercially, both locally and overseas.
The service in Singapore Science Park 2 costs commuters 40 cents for a round trip, while that in Jurong Island costs commuters $2.
Fares are pegged to existing modes of transport or shuttles in the two remote areas. Workers and bus enthusiasts have already been riding the new buses since the soft launch on Jurong Island two months ago, and in Singapore Science Park 2 on Jan 18.
The pilots seek to keep Singapore at the edge of autonomous vehicle developments, with companies in countries in the region already expressing interest in Singapore’s trials, said Mr Vincent Chong, group president and chief executive officer of ST Engineering.
He said his team is focusing on “semi-open areas” such as industrial zones and school campuses, where there is unmet demand between MRT stations and bus stops and passengers’ destinations.
More trials in other areas could be planned after the end of the two pilots on April 30 and after the results are evaluated.
The pilots are organised by an Alliance for Action on Robotics – which brings together transport stakeholders from operators to technology providers – set up by the Government to promote the use of robotics in land transport and cleaning.
It falls under the Emerging Stronger Taskforce created last year to chart Singapore’s recovery and create jobs that will be sustainable after the pandemic.
The pilot comes after the KPMG autonomous vehicle readiness index last year ranked Singapore first globally.
The slower speed limit and less congested traffic in the two semi-open areas match the Land Transport Authority’s regulations on autonomous vehicles.
At all times, a bus driver stays at the wheel of the buses in the event of emergencies, while an ambassador is also stationed on the bus to address questions and concerns of commuters, as part of the trial’s engagement to encourage commuters to be more open to taking driverless vehicles.
In the Singapore Science Park 2 trial, the driver switches from automatic to manual mode on a particular stretch of the route between the park and Haw Par Villa MRT station, in accordance with the LTA’s geographical restrictions on where these autonomous vehicles can operate.
An ST Engineering spokesman said the new pilots differ from previous trials as “unlike past exercises, this is not a technological showcase but an operational experience.”
A three-month trial on Sentosa in 2019 ferried over 6,000 members of the public – free of charge – without any incident.
For now, buses in the new pilots are operating on an on-demand basis, where commuters make a booking on an app, pay their fares using credit or debit cards, and board the bus when it makes its loop during specified time periods.
Mr Harry Lim, 56, a worker in a smart innovation lab in Singapore Science Park, said he is more comfortable using the service with the driver present.
He has taken the service about thrice in the past week, and said rides have all been smooth.
“For me, it’s about getting point to point,” he said. “The previous bus service is quite irregular, so this helps me plan my trip better.”
Mr Tan Lee Kun, an SMRT autonomous vehicle bus safety operator operating one of the two autonomous vehicles in Singapore Science Park, said: “The world is going into autonomous vehicle mode. For now, I’m not too worried about my job (because I have been trained) and am just happy to be part of the experience.”
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