Driverless bus could be a life changer

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Driverless bus could be a life changer

In 2020, Keolis Downer, in partnership with City of Newcastle, took a brave step toward the future of transport, conducting Newcastle’s first ever driverless bus trial. The UAV or Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle was trailed along Wharf Road in Newcastle East, with this cutting-edge piece of tech travelling 620 kilometres and carrying 680 passengers.

The trial aimed to investigate the effect of AVs in an on road environment with local traffic and as first and last mile public transport solution by connecting customers to their local bus or light rail and delivering them closer to their doorstep.

After the trial, Keolis Downer asked Guts to help investigate what people thought this curious little robot bus and their likelihood to use it long term. And we were super-excited to be part of a project making Newcastle more progressive, sustainable and accessible.

As part of the first phase of our research we interviewed those who rode the driverless shuttle during the trial as part of a user survey to pick their brain on its viability, potential uses and sustainability.

Phase two included an accessibility trade-off workshop. We heard from six people living with a disability and representatives from advocacy groups who told us how this new future of transport could be a life line. In an Australian first, we even welcomed aboard Willow, the guide dog to gauge her canine requirements.

We found that people living with a disability are excited and ready to put their trust in technology that gives them access and opportunity. This new tech was an enabler that gave them freedom and they were keen to adopt it, they just needed clear communication and to feel included – give them a really good app and don’t dumb things down.

Encouragingly, all users were very positive about the potential of driverless vehicles and had strong intentions to use future iterations. We also got some great suggestions for future routes including the local university, hospital and touring the local beaches as a tourist attraction. Most importantly we found convenience is still king – if future driverless vehicles are useful, convenient and reliable, locals will jump onboard.

Result: our insights helped Keolis Downer and their partners City of Newcastle and Transport for NSW to build a rich picture of the whole community’s needs, sentiments and attitudes towards a driverless shuttle. We were chuffed to hear the community was keen for more innovative and sustainable transport solutions and proud that Newcastle is leading the way, here’s hoping the next iteration arrives on our shores soon!

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