Gov­ern­ments and coun­cils rec­om­mended to join forces to fund tri­als of au­to­mated ve­hi­cles with a pub­lic trans­port ap­pli­ca­tion

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The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on In­dus­try, In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Re­sources has rec­om­mended that Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment join forces with state gov­ern­ments and lo­cal coun­cils to fund tri­als of au­to­mated ve­hi­cles with a pub­lic trans­port ap­pli­ca­tion in ur­ban and re­gional ar­eas.

The rec­om­men­da­tion came largely from a sub­mis­sion made ear­lier this year by the Bus In­dus­try Con­fed­er­a­tion (BIC) to an in­quiry on so­cial is­sues re­lat­ing to land-based au­to­mated ve­hi­cles in Aus­tralia.

BIC ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Michael Apps pre­sented at a pub­lic hear­ing on the mat­ter in late May this year. His aim, very broadly, is to en­sure that ex­ist­ing bus and coach op­er­a­tors are en­gaged and have an on­go­ing key role to play in the adop­tion of au­to­mated ve­hi­cles [and re­lated on-road leg­is­la­tion that must be put in place first] from a very early stage as so­ci­ety grad­u­ally edges closer to the use of au­to­mated ve­hi­cles.

There were 47 sub­mis­sions in to­tal from aca­demics, trans­port as­so­ci­a­tion di­rec­tors, trans­port in­sur­ance and law spe­cial­ists and politi­cians to name a few.

To quote di­rectly from the lat­est re­port on so­cial is­sues re­lat­ing to land-based au­to­mated ve­hi­cles in Aus­tralia: “The Com­mit­tee is of the view that im­prov­ing pub­lic trans­port op­tions, par­tic­u­larly in re­gional and ru­ral Aus­tralia, will of­fer a sub­stan­tial pub­lic ben­e­fit.

“As with other as­pects of driver­less ve­hi­cles, it is likely that at­ti­tudes to­wards driver­less pub­lic trans­port will change once more peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence the tech­nol­ogy. The Com­mit­tee there­fore is of the view that tri­als of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles in Aus­tralia should fo­cus on ve­hi­cles with pub­lic trans­port ap­pli­ca­tions. The ex­ist­ing tri­als of buses in Perth and Dar­win could pro­vide mod­els for other tri­als.

“While the In­tel­libus it­self – like the Dar­win Wa­ter­front driver­less bus trial that be­gan in Fe­bru­ary 2017 – is only a small ve­hi­cle, and there­fore not com­pa­ra­ble to large com­muter buses, the Com­mit­tee nonethe­less recog­nises that th­ese tri­als serve im­por­tant roles in in­creas­ing peo­ple’s fa­mil­iar­ity with driver­less ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy.

“Fur­ther, they point to a po­ten­tial fu­ture ap­pli­ca­tion of pub­lic trans­port, in which small au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles pro­vide more fo­cused and lo­calised ser­vices than has tra­di­tion­ally been the role of pub­lic trans­port. The emer­gence of driver­less ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy will

bring about a change in the role of pub­lic trans­port without nec­es­sar­ily repli­cat­ing ex­ist­ing pub­lic trans­port struc­tures.”

The BIC ex­plained that the pub­lic may not will­ingly ac­cept en­tirely driver­less buses.

“The con­cept of a driver­less bus, in par­tic­u­lar large buses, may be tech­no­log­i­cally pos­si­ble but the re­al­ity of mass tran­sit and school bus ser­vices op­er­at­ing in this way are much less cer­tain for a va­ri­ety of op­er­a­tional and per­sonal safety and so­ci­etal is­sues.

“The un­known el­e­ment from a bus per­spec­tive is if it is go­ing to be ac­cepted by users con­cerned about safety and se­cu­rity. Mea­sures to gain the trust of the com­mu­nity in re­la­tion to safety and se­cu­rity will be very im­por­tant, but ul­ti­mately they may not be suc­cess­ful.

“This is­sue has the po­ten­tial to block the use of driver­less buses and may limit the tech­nol­ogy to per­sonal con­veyances and may even re­strict them.”

The BIC pointed to over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence to sup­port this ar­gu­ment, not­ing that a ‘ driver’ of a bus seems to be pre­ferred by many pas­sen­gers.

“One fac­tor that has been recog­nised after ac­tual tri­als of driver­less buses on guided busways in France is that pas­sen­gers do have con­cerns of trust and safety when a driver is not aboard,” Apps ex­plained to the com­mit­tee.

“In this ex­am­ple, driv­ers were re­turned to the bus to ease con­cern, de­spite the fact that the ve­hi­cle re­mained self-driven.

“The phys­i­cal pres­ence of the driver was an im­por­tant psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tor, even if it was only for ‘over­ride’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties if re­quired. Trust­ing fu­ture tech­nol­ogy will be a ma­jor chal­lenge for many in­di­vid­u­als.”

The Aus­tralian Driver­less Ve­hi­cle Ini­tia­tive (ADVI) pro­vided fur­ther re­search sup­port for this point, based on its 2016 sur­vey of Aus­tralians’ at­ti­tudes to­wards au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. That sur­vey found that only 43 per cent of re­spon­dents were com­fort­able with the idea of trav­el­ling on pub­lic trans­port – such as a bus or taxi – without a driver. Only slightly more (46 per cent of re­spon­dents) were com­fort­able with the sug­ges­tion of share cars – trav­el­ling in a small ve­hi­cle with strangers.

If a non-driv­ing staff mem­ber on board the ve­hi­cle will still be re­quired, then the ben­e­fits, other than im­proved safety, of driver­less ve­hi­cles to mass pub­lic trans­port may be lim­ited.

Many of the ex­pected ben­e­fits – par­tic­u­larly for re­gional ar­eas – de­scribed above are based on the premise that driver­less pub­lic trans­port op­tions will be flex­i­ble and more eco­nom­i­cal than those re­quir­ing hu­man driv­ers.

A re­lated point was made by the Mo­tor Trades As­so­ci­a­tion Queens­land, not­ing that the im­pact of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles on the pub­lic trans­port sec­tor needs to be un­der­stood in the con­text of Aus­tralia’s over­whelm­ingly pri­vate trans­port-fo­cused pat­tern.

“Pub­lic trans­port sys­tems/modes may emerge that pro­vide so­lu­tions not avail­able pre­vi­ously, but to date pub­lic trans­port has not been the trans­port mode of choice and it seems on av­er­age less than 10 per cent of Aus­tralia’s work­force utilises pub­lic trans­port to travel to work.

“Pri­vate mo­tor ve­hi­cles have been the trans­port of choice re­sult­ing in ur­ban trans­port con­ges­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and gen­er­at­ing so­cial cost for com­mu­ni­ties and cities.”

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on In­dus­try, In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Re­sources has now de­vel­oped 10 rec­om­men­da­tions that it will work on as it strives to grasp the many so­cial is­sues re­lat­ing to land-based au­to­mated ve­hi­cles in Aus­tralia.

“Tri­als serve im­por­tant roles in in­creas­ing peo­ple’s fa­mil­iar­ity with this tech­nol­ogy”

Above: BIC ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Michael Apps pre­sented at a pub­lic hear­ing on au­to­mated ve­hi­cles in late May this year

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