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Inverness students first to ride on driverless buses as futuristic vision arrives on time

By Alan Shields

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Self-driving shuttle bus waiting at bus station. The bus station equipped with solar panels for electric power.
Self-driving shuttle bus waiting at bus station. The bus station equipped with solar panels for electric power.

Inverness students will be among the first in Scotland to ride on driverless buses.

The city's Beechwood campus has been chosen as the location for Scotland’s first Autonomous Vehicle (AV) pilot.

The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) said the base “fits well with the strategic vision of the area to promote multi-modal travel” and the move away from private car use.

The AV passenger service will provide a route linking Inverness Campus with the Inverness Retail and Business Park.

The route will cover 2km which includes a railway crossing facilitated by the recently introduced sustainable travel bridge.

The corridor is restricted to public transport, walking and cycling only, with those walking and cycling segregated from road vehicles across most of the route.

One vehicle will operate on the route offering up to 15 seats - 1 seated plus four standing. The expectation is that the shuttle service would be used by students and people working on the Inverness Campus site to access the shopping and business park throughout the day.

In addition, tourists who might be staying in campus accommodation could use the shuttle during the summer months.

The trial is seen as complementary to a project in Hannover, Germany, where trialling an autonomous bus shuttle between a tram stop and a new university campus is being undertaken.

While the vehicle might be capable of driving itself without being controlled by an individual, an operator will be present in the vehicle at all times.

The driving task will be delegated to the vehicle, but the operator will be ready to take control whenever they are required to do so.

Monitoring will be conducted throughout the pilot on various technological aspects as well as social impacts. The intention of the pilots is not only to test the viability of a route operated by an AV, but also to test the technology required to use AVs in combination with other transport modes and better understand user perceptions. Dedicated work streams have therefore been developed to focus on the long-term socio-economic impacts of AVs, with research validated using pilot project results.

Procurement for the vehicle was launched in October 2021 and has now concluded. The contract was awarded to French firm NAVYA.

The trials are due to launch soon and will run for approximately 10 months before the project comes to an end in Spring 2023.

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