Cambridge, UK is piloting AVs
Guided busways, first introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, utilize mechanical, optical, or radio sensors to steer buses along a dedicated track. By allowing for automated navigation along a narrow right of way, this technology in many ways is a harbinger of what may be possible when AV technology and Bus Rapid Transit schemes come together in the future. For now, however, AV makers are exploring how busways, like the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway can be used by driverless vehicles to fill gaps in current transit services. Launched in 2011 as the world’s longest busway, this unique transport link connects Cambridge, Huntingdon and St. Ives.
The idea of using the busway for AV testing got traction with the release of a 2015 study conducted by the University of Cambridge. Initial feasibility tests will be led by Coventry-based RDM Group and feature the same PodZero vehicle being tested at Milton Keynes. A potential next step is the deployment of a small fleet of driverless shuttles running a roughly 3-mile route along the busway between Cambridge Station, the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and the Trumpington Park and Ride.
As in many other cities looking at AV-enabled transit, the focus is on filling existing gaps in transit service, not replacing conventional vehicles. As RDM’s director of autonomous mobility argues, “Research has shown that there is demand for hundreds of journeys in the hours when the buses do not run. This is simply due to the cost and the pods can offer a solution that is cheaper to run…this is not replacing the existing service, just complementing it with a practical and effective solution during quieter times of the day.” City officials have also expressed interest in expanding the trial to another section of the city that is underserved by transit: Wellcome Genome Campus and Whittlesford Parkway Railway Station.