16 Jan 2024

Encouraging more people to switch to public transport

Autonomous shuttles: real alternatives to private transport

Public transport offers great potential for making people's mobility behaviour more environmentally friendly and sustainable. However, a new mode of transport can only be a real alternative to private transport if it makes mobility easier in the long term and ideally even offers financial benefits. The ideal formula for this has not yet been found, but pilot projects throughout Germany are getting closer to answering the question "How do we get more people to switch?".

Two trade fair visitors examine an autonomous shuttle under the magnifying glass

The Hamburg on-demand project "hvv hop", for example, has been well received. According to a survey conducted by the Institute for Transport Planning and Logistics at Hamburg University of Technology, four out of five passengers use their private car less frequently and perceive the service to be a good substitute for their cars. Around two thirds of the journeys made across the service area were combined with buses and trains, providing connections to the established public transport network. The hvv-hop vehicle fleet currently consists of 43 barrier-free and locally emission-free shuttles from the British manufacturer LEVC. In the "ahoi" project, autonomous vehicles are to be added to the Harburg fleet.

The "Electric Autonomous Shuttle for You" has been making its rounds in Frankfurt's Riederwald district since November 2022. The practical phase of the EU project "EASYplus" ended on 31 October 2023, three months later than planned. Among other things, the interaction of the software in the vehicle with the planning and pooling of the Ioki app was tested. During the one-year test, more than 2,700 people took the opportunity to be driven by a machine (plus safety driver, consistently referred to as an "operator" in Frankfurt) at speeds of up to 20 km/h through the residential streets of the secluded Frankfurt-Riederwald neighbourhood. The passengers included technology enthusiasts from out of town, but mainly older people from the neighbourhood. This target group in particular, which had previously been assumed to be highly sceptical, turned out to be eager customers of the free shuttle service, especially between a residential complex for the elderly and the only supermarket in the district.

At IT-TRANS from 14 to 16 May in Karlsruhe, trade visitors can literally experience the autonomous FZI shuttle from Forschungszentrums Informatik FZI: The shuttle drives its rounds between two intelligent stops and simulates complex driving manoeuvres. The highlight: the shuttle is not limited to a specific lane as a kind of virtual track, but can use the entire width of the carriageway.

Funding that pays off

Women sitting in an autonomous shuttle working at a laptop

Projects such as EASYplus would be virtually impossible to realise at present without the high funding rates for pilot projects, but the value is undisputed. They support research with autonomous vehicles for areas and times with a lack of public transport, but also on main axis, as the lack of personnel requires the digitalisation of bus transport, light rail and heavy rail in the long term. The KIRA project ("AI-based regular operation of autonomous on-demand transport") is to follow EASY, but the launch date has been repeatedly postponed due to technical problems. KIRA industry partner Mobileye is also playing a key role in the ALIKE project in Hamburg. The project, which is subsidised by the Federal Ministry of Transport with EUR 26 million, aims to have 10,000 autonomous minibuses on Hamburg's roads by 2030.

The third phase of the "Ameise III" autonomous bus project is now underway in the Rems-Murr district. In addition to the existing test site in Waiblingen's Ameisenbühl, the area of the future "Quantum Gardens" neighbourhood in Ehningen will be used for test drives. The main aim is to investigate synergy effects with urban and neighbourhood planning, as well as the extent to which the driving experience can be improved, particularly for people with limited mobility.

The Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) has invited tenders for a study to provide a nationwide overview and evaluation of on-demand transport services in comparison to conventional scheduled services. Existing nationwide evaluations do not yet provide sufficient information on journeys actually made, vehicles used, transport options for pushchairs and bicycles, lead times for bookings, etc., which means that a comparative evaluation with scheduled services is not possible. The aim of the project is to close this gap in order to be able to adequately integrate on-demand transport services into the analyses of the quality of local public transport.