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Take a 14-mile trip on an autonomous Scottish bus starting next month

Or else!

Travelers looking to get from Fife to Edinburgh will soon have a new transport option: a fleet of five autonomous buses set to begin operating in Scotland on a 14-mile route this May.

Running from Ferrytoll Park and Ride near the Forth Road Bridge to the Edinburgh Park Transport Interchange, the bus route is claimed to be the first registered autonomous bus operation in the UK. On the 14-mile route the buses will travel up to 50 miles per hour in mixed traffic, and will have the capacity for around 10,000 passenger journeys per week.

The fleet of five Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV buses are being operated as part of the joint CAVForth (CAV meaning connected autonomous vehicles) initiative funded by the UK Government's Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, as well as transport biz Stagecoach, bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis, Transport Scotland and others. 

The approval of the project, which will begin serving passengers on May 15, follows a test run by Stagecoach in January. Twenty-two passengers were on board during the test run, which traveled the same 14-mile route the full service will operate on next month. 

"Our trunk road network can provide a wide range of environments as a diverse testing ground, and the ground-breaking and globally significant Project CAVForth will really help Scotland establish its credentials on the world stage," said Kevin Stewart, the Scottish Minister for Transport. 

"This is an exciting milestone for this innovative and ambitious project, and I very much look forward to seeing Project CAVForth take to the roads next month," Stewart said. 

Autonomous, but not unsupervised

In a 2021 blog post, CAVForth said the Alexander Dennis buses it's deploying on the route are capable of SAE level 4 autonomy, which is defined by vehicles able to drive themselves in all but the most challenging conditions. 

Level 4 autonomy is still in the prototype stage in most of the world's automotive fleets, but Fusion Processing, the company behind the CAVstar autonomous system, says it's ready.

"We are delighted to be leading on the world's most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme," said Fusion Processing CEO Jim Hutchinson. "Our automated driving system … combines our own hardware and software to create safe, full-sized buses, operating at SAE Level 4," Hutchinson added. 

That's not to say passengers on the CAVForth route will find themselves on a bus without an operator - quite the opposite: There will be two staff members on board to handle operation of the autonomous vehicle. We note that old-fashioned human-driven buses typically only require a single person to operate. 

For the foreseeable future, the autonomous buses will operate with a safety driver up front monitoring the technology, and a "captain" in the passenger cabin "to take tickets and answer customers questions," CAVForth said.

So, OK, a regular bus, then. These self-driving vehicles have to start somewhere, we guess, with trials and experiments.

Cities in Norway, Germany and Switzerland have announced plans to deploy their own fleets of autonomous buses, but those projects have involved miniature vehicles, not full-sized buses. ®

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