Isreal will become one of the first countries to trial autonomous buses as the nation looks at ways to automate mass transport options. The move is being made to reduce traffic congestion while increasing safety and improving service.
Four bus companies have been selected for the initial trials: Egged, Metropolin, Dan and Nateev Express. Naturally, the first trial bus journeys won’t be available for the public to board, with each company tasked with proving the safety, viability, and business feasibility of their autonomous vehicle, which will be conducted on closed roads.
Once approved, the aggressive strategy will see autonomous vehicles make their move to the public road, plying bus lines for a two-year trial period. The goal will be to transition to a fleet of autonomous vehicles that operate without drivers in as little as a few years.
According to The Jerusalem Post, one of the motivators behind the move is to tackle Isreal’s lack of manpower, with the nation facing a severe shortage of bus drivers. The government is providing half of the NIS 61 million ($17 million USD) funding, with the Israel Innovation Authority and Ayalon Highways pitching in too.
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While no autonomous technology providers have been named as yet, there are reportedly 600 smart transportation start-ups based in Isreal alone, with the number of businesses focused on autonomous vehicles growing by 26 percent each year.
“The State of Israel is harnessing the autonomous vehicle to improve Israeli public transport, which will eventually turn Israel into a world leader in autonomous public transport pilots enabling Israeli companies to become global leaders in this sector,” said IIA chairman Dr. Ami Appelbaum.
While autonomous cars and taxis often take the spotlight, automating mass transit options such as buses offers another way for cities to encourage public transport adoption with reliable services and increased frequency.