Passengers due to ride ‘world's most ambitious and complex’ autonomous buses across Forth Road Bridge by January

Passengers are due to finally travel on the UK's first full-size autonomous bus over the Forth Road Bridge by January after road tests were completed.

The public trials over a 14-mile route between Fife and Edinburgh are now more than two years late after being put back several times, including because of the Covid pandemic.

The CAVForth (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles) project, which described itself as “the world's most ambitious and complex autonomous bus pilot”, told The Scotsman it expected to launch passenger services “within the next three months”.

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Four specially-adapted single-decker Stagecoach buses will operate between Ferrytoll park and ride just north of the bridge and Edinburgh Park via the M90, M9 and M8.

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The passenger trial follows the completion of road testing, which started in April. It is expected to run for six months, with the 36-passenger buses having a back-up driver on board.

Stagecoach admitted last year the public weren’t yet ready to trust the technology, “but they expect they would use it if they had to”.

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Head of operational standards Louise Simpson said: “Although most don’t want to be the first to try it out, by seeing it in practice and having proof that it’s safe would make them more open to using it.” But the company denied it was aimed at getting rid of drivers.

Motoring groups have also raised concern about the buses using hard shoulders on the M8, although buses will be limited to 40mph on them.

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Public trials of the buses have been delayed by more than two years, including by Covid

A spokesperson for the project said "We have now successfully completed a number of milestones, including the recruitment of 22 experienced drivers who will be specially trained and be monitoring the system alongside a bus captain, opening the new section of actively managed hard shoulder on the eastbound M8 motorway, and completing on-road testing in Scotland.

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"We are working together to complete the final stages of the testing, including the full regulatory approval, and expect to be launching the service for passengers within the next three months."

The project also involves bus maker Alexander Dennis, Transport Scotland, Fusion Processing, Napier University and Bristol Robotics Lab.

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But CAVForth stressed the trial was “completely different” and unrelated to an experimental 15-passenger autonomous bus operated by Stagecoach in Inverness, in a separately managed project with the Highland and Islands Transport Partnership, which has reportedly hit problems.

The buses will retain a driver on board for safety
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A passenger watchdog was optimistic the CAVForth scheme would attract more people to buses.

Bus Users UK director for Scotland Greig MacKay said: “We have been closely involved with the project to ensure the needs and concerns of passengers are fully considered.

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"The fact that there will always be a 'driver' on board will be reassuring to many ,and we hope it will encourage more people to switch to shared and active travel."

Paul White, director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Scotland, which represents bus operators, said: “It’s fantastic to have Scotland as the venue for this world-leading pilot of autonomous vehicle capability.

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The autonomous buses will operate between Ferrytoll in Fife and Edinburgh Park

"Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis and other partners should be commended for their foresight and ambition.”

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The planned autonomous bus route linking Ferrytoll via the Forth Road Bridge, M90, M9 and M8 with Edinburgh Park. Picture: Transport Scotland

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