Driverless buses may sound like the future, but I can't see them taking off – Susan Dalgety
But will I risk sitting on the back seat of Stagecoach’s driverless bus that is about to ferry folk between Fife and Edinburgh, with a little help of a grant from the UK Government? I’m not sure.
The bus service, which starts at the Ferrytoll Park & Ride in Fife and travels 14 miles to Edinburgh Park Interchange, has been dubbed a “world first” and I am sure there will be plenty of people queuing up to try it out, at least once. But is it really a driverless bus, or simply a clever PR exercise?
This newspaper reported that there will be two staff on board – captains no less – to monitor the vehicle’s autonomous system and to help passengers. So, far from cutting jobs, the driverless bus appears to be creating them – which is good news for Stagecoach staff, but surely defeats the object of driverless vehicles.
I am all for bus companies modernising their fleet, with free wifi, comfortable seating and an efficient ticketing system. And environmentally friendly engines of course. But why ditch drivers?
Most bus drivers I know – and as a non-driver I use buses a lot – are very good at their job, particularly navigating their way through Edinburgh’s horrendous traffic. So what can a driverless bus do that they can’t? The auto-pilot system may complain less about gridlock on the bridge, and it will definitely never swear under its breath when I can’t find my bus pass.
Autonomous vehicles are said to be safer because they reduce the risk of human error. But how will the artificial intelligence that powers a driverless bus stop other drivers from being careless?
And I am not convinced by the argument that driverless buses will be booked on demand, so reducing the number of fixed-route buses. That sounds like a recipe for chaos. Call me old-fashioned, or a cynic (probably both), but I think it will be a long time before driverless buses are a regular feature of city life.