GCP says self-driving buses trial to start in Cambridge in March 2024
The era of autonomous vehicles in use on Cambridge’s roads by public transport companies drew closer this week as a new feasibility study gets under way, and vehicle manufacturer Conigital reveals the type of vehicle most likely to be used in the trial starting March 2024.
Building on the success of the 2021 autonomous shuttle trial in West Cambridge, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), supported by the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, won central government funding from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) for two projects that could, in the future, support the delivery of a world-class public transport network for Cambridge and further afield.
The first project, the Cambridge Autonomous Rapid Transport (CART) study, began on March 1. The total project cost is £153,548 with a grant of £92,474 grant from CCAV’s Connected and Automated Mobility programme, plus £61,074 of industrial contributions.
The researchers will look into how self-driving technology could improve public transport and investigate potential routes where automated vehicles could operate exclusively from other traffic, to relieve congestion.
“It’s a study to look at eastern access potentially into the centre of Cambridge from the Newmarket Road park and ride and asking if we used CART how would it roll out, and how would the transport situation would look like,” says Dan Clarke, head of technology and innovation at GCP, adding: “It’s not a physical deployment, it’s a study.”
The second project, Cambridge Connector, is a physical deployment due to start March 2024. Cambridge Connector, as operated by Greater Cambridge Partnership, is a £17.4million trial of on-demand, self-driving minibuses, to complement existing transport services in parts of Cambridge. Of the £17.4m, £8.7m is awarded by government, the rest is matched by industry. The project will involve 13 autonomous vehicles.
“One of the initial routes will start in West Cambridge and go on to the Biomedical Campus, and another will run from the Park & Rides in Trumpington and Babraham into the Biomedical Campus,” said Mr Clarke.
There will be designs for the 13 vehicles to be used in the trial have yet to be finalised, said Tom Robinson, CTO of Coventry-based Conigital, which will build the vehicles.
He said: “The intention is to have three types of vehicle to see how they run. One will probably be a 12-seater, one will be a 20-seater and one is a five-seater – that’s the most likely scenario.”
Cllr Elisa Meschini, chair of the GCP’s executive board, said: “Autonomous vehicles will have a role to play in the public transport system allowing more flexible transport options to be provided and the Greater Cambridge Partnership is exploring how these could, in the future, support the delivery of a world-class public transport network in Cambridge.”
The government is also committed to introducing legislation that will enable the safe and timely rollout of self-driving vehicles on UK roads. Under a proposed ‘safety ambition’ for self-driving vehicles to be equivalent in safety to a competent and careful human driver, vehicles will need to meet certain standards to be allowed to ‘self-drive’ on the roads throughout the lifetime of the vehicle.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Self-driving vehicles including buses will positively transform people’s everyday lives – making it easier to get around, access vital services and improve regional connectivity.
“We’re supporting and investing in the safe rollout of this incredible technology to help maximise its full potential, while also creating skilled jobs and boosting growth in this important sector.”