Successful test with first self-driving bus on a public road

In July, the bus lane between Schiphol Airport and Haarlem saw the first operational test run by a self-driving bus outside a closed test course. The test run was made possible by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the province of Noord-Holland as the road maintenance authority and owner of the bus lane, the municipalities of Haarlem and Haarlemmermeer, and Vialis as a traffic technology partner. The trial underscores the ambitions of the Netherlands as a pilot country for developments involving smart mobility and self-driving vehicles.

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The self-driving bus is manufactured by the German automotive concern Daimler AG. The vehicle communicates with the infrastructure, whereby communication between the traffic lights and the bus is combined with all the sensor data collected by the bus itself. The availability of a largely separate bus lane and the highly positive attitude of the authorities and market parties involved persuaded Daimler AG to opt for the Netherlands. In our country, government authorities and the private sector are collaborating on the development of several testing facilities to try out innovative traffic technologies amidst regular traffic.

Large sections of the bus lane between Schiphol Airport and Haarlem are closed off. At several stretches of the route, particularly at intersections, the bus will take the public road. During the test runs and the demonstration, a driver aboard the bus was able to monitor all the systems and intervene whenever necessary. The bus drove at the maximum speeds allowed locally (50 – 70 km/h).

 

Automatic green light

In order to enable the self-driving bus to use public roads, the vehicle needs to be able to communicate with traffic lights and other roadside systems. Vialis has provided 19 roadside systems on the Schiphol route with cooperative technology. For the first time ever, this permits a cooperative bus driving in regular traffic. Early and reliable communication between the bus and the traffic lights enables the bus to anticipate traffic situations ahead. The system already recognises the bus a couple of hundred metres before a traffic light. The traffic light responds by giving the bus priority. Well before reaching the traffic light, a notification of whether the light will turn green in time allows the bus to adjust its speed. This will reduce the need for sudden breaking at intersections.

Collaboration

During the Dutch Presidency of the European Union, over the past six months, Minister Schultz van Haegen of Infrastructure and the Environment signed the Declaration of Amsterdam, together with her European counterparts. This marks an important step towards European regulations enabling the use of self-driving vehicles. Collaboration between governments and the private sector was identified as a key success factor in this respect. While the private sector provides technological solutions and innovative power, local, regional and national governments create the preconditions for ensuring traffic safety, in addition to aspects such as security, privacy, and liability. For example, a large-scale test environment is being developed in the province of Brabant, comprising a stretch of some 70 kilometres to conduct test runs amidst regular traffic.

Advantages

More automated functions and connectivity offer a range of advantages with respect to traffic safety, freer circulation, comfortable modes of transport, more efficient use of the infrastructure, fewer tailbacks, and reduced CO2 emissions. Minister Schultz has been championing this topic for a number of years, for example by enabling tests with self-driving vehicles on public roads, and investing in smart mobility through the Beter Benutten [Optimising Use] investment programme. On 14 April, Minister Schultz initiated the “Experience”, during which she and her European counterparts drove through regular traffic in the city of Amsterdam in a procession of 28 highly automated vehicles, in which a host of international automotive concerns took part. The European Truck Platooning Challenge, in early April, was another concrete example of the possibilities offered by cooperative technology.