The Swiss city of Sion plans to expand its pioneering autonomous bus service, doubling the length of its route to the train station and extending the offer to the end of 2018.
The Federal Road Office has given the capital of canton Valais and PostBus, a subsidiary company of the state-owned Swiss Post, the green light to extend their free autonomous bus pilot project from the Old Town to the main train station.
Currently, their two bright-yellow driverless buses carry up to 11 passengers along a 1.5-kilometre route through the Old Town as part of an initiative launched in December 2015. The vehicle was the first of its kind in Switzerland and one of the first in the world to transport passengers using robotic technology instead of a driver.
To date, 60,000 people have successfully used one of the driverless buses. In September 2016, however, the bus service was suspended after a bus crashed into a delivery van; no one was injured.
The organisers now want to test the shuttles in heavier traffic and using traffic lights. The buses will be operational in the morning and afternoon several days a week, the partners said in a statement on Tuesday.
The buses are driverless but a supervisor always remains on board the shuttle to ensure passenger safety and manually stop the vehicle if necessary. Each bus can reach a maximum of 45km/h (28mph) but they are currently restricted to 20km/h, the speed limit in the cobbled centre.
The self-driving shuttles are the fruit of a collaboration between the Sion and Valais authorities, PostBus and Swiss start-up BestMile, founded in 2014 by graduates from Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL).
Several other autonomous bus services are being tested in Switzerland. Since September 2017, two autonomous shuttle buses have linked the Marly Innovation Center (MIC) to the Fribourg Public Transport (TPF) network over a 1.3-km route.
PostBus is also extending a shuttle service to a closed test area in the Swiss capital, Bern, in a bid to gather more experience with digitalised mobility solutions.
The Swiss transport ministry is meanwhile preparing proposals for a possible legal amendment to pave the way for the regular use of driverless vehicles on Swiss roads. A working group is due to present its findings later this year.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/sb