Edinburgh gets UK’s first autonomous bus service

A route with self-driving buses from Stagecoach, UK’s largest bus and coach operator, will start operating in Edinburgh next week, a first in the UK. However, a driver will always be on board to monitor things and take back control of the bus in an emergency. This is also required by UK law.

The project, named CAVForth, was a joint project of Fusion Processing Ltd., Transport Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University, and Bristol Robotics Lab., among others, which is partly funded by the UK Government’s Center for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

10 000 passengers a week

From Monday, 15 May, five autonomous buses will operate on a route across the iconic Forth Road Bridge about 22 kilometers west of the Scottish capital. The buses, which can travel up to 50 km/hour, are equipped with cameras, a Lidarr and radar system, and artificial intelligence to detect vehicles and pedestrians.

In addition, receiving information directly from traffic light systems enables the bus to plan its speed to run smoothly from one green light to the next. The buses are expected to carry up to 10 000 passengers a week.

According to Peter Stevens, director of public affairs at Stagecoach, the AB1 service, part of a trial that will run until 2025, will be safer, more efficient, and lead to fuel savings of up to 20%. With the ability to see 360°, react faster, and see further in bad weather, all while being risk-averse and not getting tired or distracted, the system can react faster than even the most experienced human drivers.

The CAVStar system has already covered over 1,8 million kilometers in tests. In addition to a driver, a second Stagecoach employee will be on board the bus each time to check tickets and answer passengers’ questions.

Scotland at the forefront

“We want Scotland to continue to be at the forefront in the development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, and the start of this live trial will help the country establish its credentials on the world stage,” Scottish Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart, said at the official launch. “I am excited to see how this technology can help to support our vision for a sustainable, inclusive, safe, and accessible transport system.”

In 2021, a self-driving electric bus was commissioned in Malaga, Spain, a project presented as a first in Europe. Trials were also carried out in South Korea in the same year and in Singapore in early 2023.

In 2022, a midibus of Turkish bus manufacturer Karsan had also been running autonomously on a daily service from Stavanger’s bus operator Kolumbus in Norway. It was claimed to be the first self-driving midibus in Europe. However, AB1 is believed to be the first registered bus service in the world to use full-sized autonomous and regular buses.


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