There were two announcements this week that highlight the role buses will play in the green transportation revolution. First, the Singapore Land Transit Authority has signed an agreement with Nanyang Technological University to test the use of self driving buses between NTU and CleanTech Park to reduce congestion and encourage more people to take public transportation.
A joint press release says, “Self-driving buses will arrive at bus stops at precise timings every morning, allowing us to plan our journeys more effectively. During off-peak hours, these buses will be deployed dynamically based on commuter demand and the fastest possible route, thus reducing the number of vehicles needed to ply the town and maximizing the number of commuters on board each vehicle.
The plan is to use two electric-hybrid buses which will be fitted with intelligent sensors. A closed route will be devised on which the buses will navigate local road traffic and adapt to local climate conditions autonomously. The trial is scheduled for early 2018, and starts with a 1.4 kilometer long route between NTU and CleanTech Park. A year later, the plan is to stretch the route to the nearby Pioneer MRT station.
NTU’s executive director, Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, said the institute is studying which brand of bus to use, but it will be picked from among those already used on Singapore’s public bus network. “We want to make sure that once we prove it (the system), there should not be any hindrance to scaling and going from two buses to multiple buses,” he said.
Associate Professor Marcelo Ang, acting director of the National University of Singapore’s Advanced Robotics Centre, said self-driving buses could be deployed on short routes like a shuttle bus service in as early as five years’ time. But he feels that a dynamically routed autonomous bus service may take 10 more years. “For shuttle services, you can program the buses to anticipate what the traffic conditions are at various times. But for a dynamic route, there are more uncertainties.”
In Japan, Toyota announced this week that it will begin selling fuel cell powered buses starting in 2017. Tokyo is scheduled to host the 2020 Olympic games and the Japanese government is anxious to have a fleet of hydrogen powered buses in service to transport the crowds of people who are expected to attend. The powertrain for the buses will be based on the technology created by Toyota for its Mirai fuel cell powered sedan.
Apparently, no one in Tokyo learned anything from a similar experiment by the city of Vancouver when it hosted the Olympics in 2010. It also wanted to impress the world with its zero tailpipe emissions transportation fleet. The only problem was, there was no supply of liquid hydrogen available in the area, so the fuel for the hydrogen powered buses had to be trucked in from Toronto — by diesel powered tanker trucks. After the Olympics, the fuel cell buses were deemed too expensive to operate. Most were converted to diesel power (oh, the indignity!) or sold for scrap.
Will the same happen in Tokyo? Those who know not history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, they say.