Self-driving buses to serve 14-mile Edinburgh route in UK first | Self-driving cars

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Self-driving buses will begin carrying passengers over the Forth road bridge next month in what is being hailed as a significant milestone for the technology in the UK.

Five single-decker buses will cover the 14-mile route from 15 May, carrying up to 10,000 passengers every week between the Ferrytoll park and ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park train and tram interchange.

However, although the vehicles will use sensors to travel on pre-selected roads at up to 50mph, they will still need to be operated by two members of staff, twice as many as a normal bus.

This includes a safety driver in the driver’s seat to monitor the technology, and a bus captain to help passengers with boarding, buying tickets and queries.

Currently, fully driverless cars are not legally permitted in the UK, and a safety driver is required at all times in all autonomous vehicles, although the government is working on an updated legal and assurance framework.

Stagecoach, the UK’s largest bus and coach operator, which is running the service, said the second member of staff would demonstrate what an autonomous service would feel like in the future when the driver can leave the cab. As the initiative is a trial to see how the technology works, there are no immediate plans to remove the driver from the cab.

Kevin Stewart, transport minister for the Scottish government, said the “innovative and ambitious project” was an “exciting milestone”, which he hoped would help Scotland “establish its credentials on the world stage” as the country’s road network covers a wide range of environments, which can provide a good testing ground for self-driving vehicles.

Stagecoach said it considered the project to be one of the most complex worldwide, as well as the first registered service in the UK to use full-sized autonomous buses. The UK government said it would be the first full-size, self-driving public bus service in the world.

Carla Stockton-Jones, the Stagecoach managing director, said the company was “proud to be at the forefront of transport innovation with this project that marks a significant milestone for public transport”.

Alongside six other projects, the Edinburgh bus service was awarded a share of £81m in joint UK government and industry support to speed up the commercialisation of self-driving transport technology.

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Ministers hope that the vehicles will eventually offer consumers more convenience by making journeys faster and more reliable, as well as improving safety, since 88% of road collisions are currently caused by human error; and sustainability, by encouraging more people to use public transport.

Other cities are also exploring introducing driverless buses, though these are not thought to be as advanced as the project in Edinburgh. In 2025, 45 driverless electric minibuses will be programmed to run for a year in three European cities: Geneva, Switzerland; Kronach, Germany; and Oslo, Norway. There have also been short trials in several cities, including Rome and Seoul.

This article was amended on 13 April 2023 to remove references in the text and headline that the Edinburgh driverless bus trial is the first of its kind globally.

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