A team of KTH Students, supported by ITRL researchers, have been awarded the first prize of the Urban International Design Contest at PodCar city Conference in Gävle (October 8-10). We sat down with them to hear more about their solution for public transportation incorporating autonomous vehicles in the existing system of public transportation.
Could you explain your idea in a simple way ?
We got together with the idea to create a concept including autonomous vehicles that would be incorporated in the current system more specifically with bus line 179 in Stockholm. Our idea is to transform it into an ABRT (Autonomous Bus Rapid Transit) and use autonomous pods (i.e. Group Rapid Transit Systems (GRT)) as feeders to the main line which would have fewer stops therefore travel time would be reduced.
How did you realise that there was a need to address this issue?
An interview with Stockholm Stad started the idea, the bus line 179 is part of the Eccentric Project, and they have made clear that they have problems with the bus system, and that there is a need for higher speed for the buses.
Realistically, what future do you see for this kind of system?
Two days before our presentation, I saw an article on BBC: “you might have bought your last car”, just because it might be so soon that the autonomous vehicles and on-demand travel will take over private cars, the article gave some examples of 1900’s in New York where the streets were full of horse carriages, and just 10 years later it was only cars. The future of this technology is near, some similar projects are already being implemented like in Barkaby. Regarding the need for this new mode of transport, we found that there is great shortage of bus drivers in Sweden, some lines could even be cancelled. I am not saying that autonomous buses are the only solution for this issue, but it is definitely a solution for a current need.
We have also focused in our model on on-demand transport and door-to-door travel behaviour, we are proposing that at off-peak hours the pod can have different functionalities from freight transport to on-demand transport.
Can you describe how your project relates to sustainability issues?
One of the greatest challenge for sustainability in the world is transport, it contributes to around 23% of GHG emissions globally. One way to address that issue is to give people the possibility to not use their private car, and that will take some regulations and some infrastructures.
Also, when speaking of social sustainability, we are planning to create pods with special colours, that are exclusively for disabled people. The podcars also have different functions during off-peak hours and peak hours. During peak hours, they mainly serve to take the people from neighbourhood to their ABRT terminal, during off-peak hours they can be utilised as on-demand transport, it is a flexible system that you can adapt and develop and give extra usage to.
This kind of transport system is only relevant if people adopt it and want to use it instead of using their own car. What do you think it takes for people to have behaviour change and adopt this kind of mobility?
We do not want to push an idea, everything should start with public participation. The system would need to be implemented gradually with public participation at every stage. There can be many ways to involve people in the decision making process.
I think it is important to mention that the process of working on this project has been a challenging one. However the conference was a great opportunity to meet scholars and experts .
Additional note: As a rule of the contest, the students had to solve current transport related problems which are faced by Stockholm city planners. One of the problems which is part of EU CIVITAS Eccentric project is the low speed of core bus route 179. The main objective of this eccentric project is to speed up bus line 179.