Karlsruhe, 16 December 2019. New York, London, Hamburg – Cities around the world are testing self-driving minibuses and shuttle vehicles. But what’s required to move from these still very limited test operations to regular options in public transportation? This was the focus of the “LEA (mini) bus” research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.
Under the direction of the PTV Group, this research project examined the prerequisites and deployment possibilities for automated and electrically powered (mini) buses in public transport. In the process, the scientists illuminated the topic from all angles: starting with the status quo and current obstacles on through to the necessary technical sophistication. From design of the infrastructure and legal aspects to issues concerning operation and efficiency in different areas on through to acceptance in society. The examination incorporated previous experiences from international test operations, as well as expert interviews and surveys of authorities and the population.
An important component of the study was also a virtual analysis of the various deployment possibilities for fully automated and connected vehicles. What might regular operation look like when all the hurdles have been overcome? Using an actual transit model for the Stuttgart region created with PTV Visum, the researchers examined three different transit areas:
Two scenarios apiece were played through in each of these areas. On the one hand, regular service with a timetable and fixed stops; on the other hand, demand-oriented so-called on-demand transport with minibuses without schedule and fixed stops – in each case with fully automated and electric vehicles.
The simulation that took into account the real transport demand was able to demonstrate that using self-driving vehicles in public transport, especially minibuses, opens up a multitude of new possibilities for designing more flexible offerings and organizational operation. In addition, it can significantly reduce operating costs under certain conditions as compared to current public transport.
“In particular, there is significant potential for driverless on-demand transport in rural areas where demand is weak, where there are few buses today. In the urban environment, outlying areas and times can be served well,” explains Prof. Dr. Christoph Walther of PTV. “However, as soon as there is high demand and there are only limited possibilities for bundling trips, very large vehicle fleets are suddenly required, and these make operation inefficient. Regardless of whether large city or rural community, the key is always the actual conditions on-site. That’s why simulations that demonstrate the possible effects of vehicle deployments are especially important tools.“
About the LEA (mini) bus research project
The two-year (2017-2019) project "LEA (mini) bus - research into the prerequisites and possible applications of automated and electric (mini) buses in public transport" was carried out by a consortium consisting of PTV Planung Transport Verkehr AG (management), PTV Transport Consult GmbH, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the consulting and auditing company Rödl & Partner GbR.
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