De Lijn pulls plug on autonomous bus project in four cities
Flemish public transport company, De Lijn, will not continue with an urban autonomous transport project. The Board of Directors of De Lijn ratified a decision on Wednesday. According to De Lijn, it appears that the market for autonomous transport has not reached the technological development previously announced in recent years.
De Lijn’s decision not to continue with the project, developed with several Flemish partner cities, has been hanging in the air for some time now. In October, the newspaper De Tijd already reported that the company wanted to call off the ambitious project with an autonomous shuttle on a few fixed routes in Antwerp, Leuven, Mechelen, and Genk since it was too complex and expensive. De Lijn did not want to confirm that news at the time.
The initiative came after an experiment about autonomous transport at Brussels Airport, where a self-driving shuttle was used to make its first rides. Tests with the bus are planned by 2020, first passengers would be allowed from 2021. The driver-less bus will take visitors from the national airport to and from the bus stations and the industrial zone at the cargo airport Brucargo.
However, a feasibility study commissioned by De Lijn and the various partner cities now shows that the market for autonomous transport has not evolved sufficiently in recent years. The technological possibilities on offer are not yet performant and reliable enough for complex urban traffic situations. As a result, the project turns out to be considerably more expensive than expected, and the corona crisis is also putting pressure on the budget.
As a result, De Lijn and partner cities have decided to stop negotiations and not grant the assignment. De Lijn, however, says the entire project was an interesting learning process, and it will use the gained experience for the project at Brussels Airport, which will continue.
According to Director-General Roger Van Kesteloot, De Lijn will continue digitizing its offer and electrifying its fleet. “Today is not the right time to start additional projects of autonomous transport, but we will prepare ourselves for a future in which trail-blazing innovations will allow us to improve the offer for our customers further.”
In other European cities with historical centers, the testing of self-driving shuttles started at the end of last year. Hamburg was one of the first German cities to test autonomous and connected vehicles on a manufacturer-independent course right in the city center. In Helsinki, Gjesdal (Norway), and Tallinn (Estonia), pilots have already started as well.