Scottish Daily Mail

All aboard the ‘driverless’ bus...and the tension rose among us passengers


In a British first, driverless buses will soon be ferrying passengers across the Forth Road Bridge.

Here, Mail reporter Bethan Sexton takes on the nervy assignment of testing the new service...

THEY have been billed as driverless buses. So it was bit of a surprise to board one and still be greeted by a friendly face.

Yesterday the Mail took a ride on one of five new autonomous buses due to be rolled out to the public from Monday.

The fleet of Alexander Dennis Enviro 200AV vehicles operated by Stagecoach will cover a 14-mile route including the Forth Road Bridge. They will be manned by a safety driver and a bus ‘captain’ who will fulfil a conductor-style role, during a trial which runs until 2025.

Despite assurances autonomous buses are ‘much safer’ than normal, there was a sense of trepidatio­n among this group of passengers.

Safety driver Callum Jones was on hand to assuage any concerns. ‘We’ve got planes that are 35,000 feet in the air and only about 20 per cent is flown by the pilot in good conditions. We’re only a foot off the ground,’ he said.

Still, the knowledge that we would be travelling at up to 50mph in traffic, along dual carriagewa­ys and through roundabout­s – not to mention 200ft above the Forth – meant

‘We are still keeping an eye on the road’

spotting seatbelts came as some relief. Everyone braced themselves for the moment when Mr Jones would relinquish control. But the only real indicator was a short beep, which signalled the bus had glided seamlessly into automatic mode.

At this point – and with no sign we would be in a real-life Sandra Bullock scene in movie thriller Speed – curious passengers got up to view the driver’s cabin. As if by magic the steering wheel juddered incrementa­lly right and left, reactively adjusting its path.

Transport Minister Kevin Stewart, among the first to strap in, said he felt ‘very safe’ as the driver removed his hands.

But while the buses are fitted with 360 sensors which will automatica­lly brake if a hazard is detected, safety drivers must remain alert.

Driver Dave Cronin said: ‘We are still keeping an eye on the road, for pedestrian­s, obstacles and things like that, but we are also monitoring the system so it is a bit more challengin­g.’

Having crossed in a straight path over the bridge, the bus rose with ease to the challenge of a roundabout. But, in time, there may be no staff on board, said Jim Hutchinson, chief executive of Fusion Processing, which delivered the technology. He said: ‘I think some smaller vehicles may become completely driverless and that should make additional services possible.’

The next stop may be closer than we think.

 ?? ?? Going Forth: Reporter Bethan aboard the bus, right, as it crossed the bridge
Going Forth: Reporter Bethan aboard the bus, right, as it crossed the bridge

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