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How self-driving solutions strengthen public transport


In Denmark, we like sharing. Ownership is being replaced by shared solutions or subscription services. It’s a trend that goes hand-in-hand with the rapid technological advances that make it possible for us to fulfill most of our basic needs at the touch of a smartphone.

The same trends apply to transportation as well: owning a car is not a prerequisite for getting around the country. In fact, according to Danmarks Statistik, only 16% of families residing in Denmark have more than one car at their disposal. We’ve come to appreciate how our train system connects the country, and many of us use buses daily to get from A-B in the big cities.

Buses, local trains, regional trains, intercity trains, light railways, s-trains and metros all play a huge role in our ability to get around. Shared solutions such as these benefit us all: they limit congestion and help the environment. That said, our current public transport system does have its drawbacks.

Expensive, inflexible and not sophisticated enough

The biggest challenge when it comes to public transport is that the system is not sophisticated enough. Most citizens living outside the borders of Copenhagen city will testify to that any day. For a lot of people, it’s quite a journey to the nearest train or bus station.

Most of us are able to just jump on a bike or power-walk to our stop or station - even if it rains or snows. But there are lots of citizens who, for one reason or another, are not able to walk or bike a few kilometers. This could be, for example, the elderly, people with disabilities, blind or visually impaired people or young children, who are not able to cross big roads by themselves. These groups in particular need us to democratize mobility and refine the transport network.

The second challenge with current public transport solutions is that it’s expensive to maintain. It’s hard to avoid the cost of maintaining the vehicles themselves, but there are also huge construction costs associated with the maintenance of train tracks, signaling systems, metro excavations and the like. According to Metroselskabet, the budget for their new Cityring in Copenhagen hawked a whooping 24.6 billion Danish Kroner in 2017, while the bill for DSB’s new signaling system - according to the engineering company - could also exceed 24 billion.
Finally: The third drawback of public transportation is inflexibility. The bus leaves from a place that’s not where you are, drives you to a stop that’s not where you need to be, at a time that’s inconvenient for you. Trains and buses alike follow fixed timetables without the ability to adjust to shifting needs throughout the day. This means that the 16:30 bus down Nørrebrogade is packed to the brim – while at other times, all seats are empty.


The advantages of self-driving solutions

One solution to all of the above problems is precisely the one our team is working on: introducing self-driving vehicles. Namely, self-driving vehicles that will work to complement and expand on our current public transport system. If, for example, we introduce self-driving minibuses to connect residential areas with the nearest train-hubs, we kill two birds with one stone.

By adding a small and flexible bus that can seat 8-14 people, we make the network more sophisticated. Soon enough, a vehicle like that will be able to go exactly where it’s needed, exactly when it’s needed. What’s more, it can be fitted with software and sensors enabling users to summon it using an app – enabling the bus to count the number of passengers at a stop using smart data. If there’s a lot of people waiting, an extra bus will be mobilized. Overall mobility will be increased, allowing for more people to move freely. Easy and effortless.

A self-driving shuttle bus that runs on electricity is safe as well as environment-friendly – it isn’t even noisy. And there’s the significant benefit that they don’t require the construction of new rails or tunnels. Self-driving vehicles are ready to run on established roads as soon as they’ve performed a single scan of the area that they will operate in. In other words: no need for additional construction. 

Tying it all together

However, it’s about a lot more than just a small shuttle bus. The shuttle becomes the gateway to a whole network of public transport. Once your self-driving shuttle has brought you to the train station, you’re able to take the train towards your final destination. Suddenly, the whole network becomes so integrated that even people who’d never go anywhere if not by car would see the advantages of switching from being a driver to a passenger. In the end, this means we’ll be able to better optimize the vehicles on the roads and rails.
In the years to come, we’ll experience a major shift in the patterns of transportation around the world. Electrification and automation will eventually become the norm. This is why now is the time to invest and seize the opportunity to make Denmark a pioneering, self-driving country. And to do this in a judicious manner means forming a sophisticated network of mobility, that will allow Danes in all municipalities to move with ease.