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Integrating self-driving buses in Barkarby’s public transport

MMiB became the first project in Europe that integrated self-driving buses in public transport. What are the effects caused by this? We asked three researchers behind the projects about their experiences and insights.

Portraits of Mia, Jia Guo, and Yusak Susilo.
From the left: Mia Xiaoyun Zhao, Yusak Susilo, and Jia Guo.

Researchers Yusak Susilo, Mia Xiaoyun Zhao, and Jia Guo shares their insights to the project “MMiB Modern Mobility in Barkarby” and the multiple papers that were produced.

In order to make ITRL’s research more accessible to both the industry and the public, we asked a range of questions that give an overview of the trio’s papers and inspire you to learn more.

What is the article about?

Mia: Basically it’s a project together with Järfälla municipality and KTH funded by Vinnova that’s trying to examine the effects of integrating automated buses into the SL system in the Barkarby area. The bus has 5 stops where different technologies will be tested, for example how the sensors will be working. With the people I work with, Yusak and Anna, we check the longitudinal change - how people or user acceptance change over time. This is very important, because we are trying something new. Also, this kind of service is eco-friendly, it is self-driving, it uses green energy like electricity and it will reduce the costs of management and maintenance.

Jia: For my part, I am also working on this autonomous bus project, on the longitudinal study. In our last paper we focused on the attitudes of the respondents, now we want to know if the attitude and the perception of the usage has changed or not. We also have another published paper focusing on how people like to use autonomous buses, for example their preferred trip distance, type of travel and the difference between these buses and conventional ones.

Yusak: It is about learning how people adapt to this technology in the long term.

What were the results?

Mia: In the paper I worked on about user acceptance I checked different social demographic and control variables, like age or if people have used other types of public transport. We also focused on safety, comfort, operation and travel time. Of course, there are more detailed variables that you need to consider, for example in operation there are the driving speed, the frequency of the bus and the ability to update information. In general, we can see that in the beginning the users are not really accepting the services, they are just trying it out of curiosity. But as time moves on, people start to use it more and more as an actual normal transportation service, especially the people living and working in the Barkarby area. They are also putting more value on the travel frequency and information updates because these are very important for people who use this service daily.

The other thing that we found is that speed is not a main influencing factor in people's acceptance of the service. As the Barkarby area is usually very busy with a lot of traffic, we thought that speed might be a big influence since people value their time, but that was actually not the case. This was surprising, but it also makes sense because even if you take your own car or use other public transports, the speed difference is not that big. As time moves along, people are more concerned about their comfort and their safety.

On the operational side, we found that it is important for the public transport operator to work together with the municipality in order to not only make the technology shine, but also to be successful in the policy and management side of things. This way more people will accept and use this environmentally friendly service.

Jia: We found that autonomous bus users are more sensitive to the bus frequency and working distance. Also, we found that autonomous bus users are more likely to use them for recreational purposes, while using conventional buses for commuting. People are also more likely to use conventional buses to travel longer distances and autonomous buses for shorter trips. Furthermore, people also wanted to use conventional buses during the rush hours in the morning and afternoon. They also said that they prefer using autonomous buses on sunny days and not on days with poor weather conditions.

Which types of people were more inclined to use this kind of service?

Mia: The age distribution among the volunteers was not very well balanced, which is kind of biased in a sense because most were between 30 and 40 years of age. One thing that we found was that there were not a lot of differences between men and women. Also, we found that people who own a car are less willing to use the service, but they also tend to live outside of Barkarby.

What is the next step in this research?

Jia: For my part, the future research will still be focused on the survey. But there are still questions regarding this project, for example we still don’t know the bus lines or the number of stops it has.

Yusak: The plan for the future is to make this on demand, and to have a support system in the background so that it can be operated remotely, safely, and autonomously. What needs to be done in the next step is the instrumentation of the support system. For example, when the bus comes up from a minor road to a major road, human intervention is needed, simply because the vehicle cannot see other vehicles on the major road.

What is the take home message for this project?

Mia: First of all, factors that influence user acceptance of these kinds of services are dynamically changing over time. This is very important because this project is a cooperation between different stakeholders, which is why we need to emphasize how the factors affecting user behaviour are changing dynamically. Secondly, it’s not only the fancy technology that attracts people into using this service, because in the end we want people to view it as a normal type of public transport. We want it since we believe such a service is more environmentally friendly, and it has such great potential for decreasing carbon emissions and sustainable mobility development. So, I think it is very important not only for the tech side to make it safer and more comfortable, but also the cooperation between the public authorities and operators. Because in the end, that’s what really motivates people to use this service.

Jia: Our results focus on the differences between autonomous buses and conventional buses. The autonomous buses is the replacement or complement to conventional buses. We want to know the passengers demands, interest, and user needs. The autonomous bus should be used for round trip purposes. For example they would like to use autonomous buses for travel distance, that is the aim for the policymakers, they should know the users’ needs so we will have a better policy. That is the aim of our study.

Yusak: When the car or train was invented, it took a lot of time, and people probably hated these inventions. But when the technology improves and through trial and error, it will succeed. But this process takes time and will sometimes seem a bit mundane, but in the end it’s a worthwhile investment.

You can read more here (pdf 810 kB) , and find more papers on the project page . Feel free to contact Mia , Jia , or Yusak  for more information.