'We don’t think the public are ready to trust it just yet', Stagecoach admits over Forth Road Bridge autonomous bus trial

Stagecoach has admitted people had still to be convinced about the safety of autonomous buses as it announced a UK-first trial between Fife and Edinburgh was now due to start next year.

The CAVForth – Connected and Autonomous Vehicles - pilot project over a 14-mile route from Ferrytoll park and ride via the Forth Road Bridge, M90, M9 and M8 to Edinburgh Park, will have a driver on board.

It was due to begin in 2020, but has been delayed by the Covid crisis.

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Stagecoach head of operational standards Louise Simpson said: "There is a lot of distrust of computer-controlled devices in general, based on people’s personal experience, and more specifically, distrust of driverless vehicles due to what’s reported in the media.

The first of Stagecoach's autonomous buses making its debut at the SEC in Glasgow in 2019

"Many people will have read about Tesla’s and other serious incidents that have happened overseas.”

Ms Simpson told a Transport Research and Innovation event on Tuesday organised by Edinburgh Napier University: “People don’t trust the technology just now, but they expect they would use it if they had to.

"There’s an understanding that it’s something that’s coming, and 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.”

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The autonomous bus route will involve running on the hard shoulder of the M8 into Edinburgh. Picture: Transport Scotland

Ms Simpson said passengers were also worried about their personal safety, the accessibility of the vehicle and what would happen in an emergency.

She said they also thought the innovation was simply to get rid of drivers to save money.

Stagecoach said it was to boost road safety, connectivity and efficiency.

In a new video to promote the project, the firm stressed its approach to innovation was always “people first, technology second”.

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The bus operator said its research, involving hundreds of people, had shown that “most of their preconceptions around autonomous travel are from science fiction or news stories about accidents”, adding: "So we don’t think the public are ready to trust it just yet.”

The six-month trial will involve five specially-adapted single-decker buses, running up to every 20 minutes.

Each can carry 42 passengers, providing a total capacity of 10,000 people a week.

The project started with tests in a Manchester bus depot in 2018, with a vehicle making its Scottish debut at an autonomous vehicles event at Glasgow’s SEC in 2019.

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