Commuters can ride driverless buses in two areas for a fee in trial
Commuters can now take driverless buses in two areas of Singapore for a small fee, in the first such trial since the Republic began experimenting with autonomous vehicles on the roads in 2015.
The new services, headed by ST Engineering, are operated by SMRT and SBS Transit, the two largest bus operators here.
They will run in Singapore Science Park 2 near Haw Par Villa and on Jurong Island, with a round trip costing 40 cents and $2 respectively.
It will be the first time driverless bus services in Singapore have collected fares from passengers and generated revenue.
The trial, which will continue until April 30, will provide real-world data on what is needed for these buses to be rolled out commercially in both local and overseas contexts.
Companies in the region are already expressing interest in the buses' viability in their countries, said Mr Vincent Chong, group president and chief executive officer of ST Engineering.
The pilot comes after the KPMG autonomous vehicle readiness index last year ranked Singapore first in the world.
Those involved said they were committed to maintaining Singapore's edge in the burgeoning area, which could reap economic returns for the country once it takes off.
Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung, who was at the official launch of the two routes yesterday, praised the practical nature of the projects.
"Sometimes we can research and prepare and plan when often it is better to just start doing something, and learn along the way," he said.
"In that way, you accelerate the learning process so that we are able to make autonomous bus services a reality sooner."
He said driverless buses still have some way to go to be integrated into the system - at least five years, according to industry watchers - but it is a very exciting technology that could possibly be applied to Housing Board towns in the future.
For the new trial, the slower speed limit and less congested traffic in the areas where it is being held match regulations on autonomous vehicles from the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
At all times, a driver stays at the wheel in case of emergencies, while a bus ambassador is also stationed on the vehicle to address commuters' questions and concerns.
In the Singapore Science Park 2 part of the trial, the driver switches from automatic to manual mode at West Coast Highway and Pasir Panjang Road between the park and Haw Par Villa MRT station, in accordance with the LTA's geographical restrictions on where these autonomous vehicles can operate.
The pilots are organised by an Alliance for Action on Robotics - which brings together transport stakeholders from operators to technology providers - set up by the Government to promote the use of robotics in land transport and cleaning.