“A technology that is not mature enough”: why STIB is abandoning its tests of driverless autonomous vehicles

It is the second test, conducted from mid-November 2019 to mid-February 2020, which will show the weaknesses of the technology. It takes place on the site of the Solvay factory, in Neder-over-Heembeek. It is a closed space but welcomes cars entering and leaving the site.

Unexpected stops

This technology is promising but not mature enough to be implemented in a public transport context“explains Françoise Ledune, about this second test in an environment closer to urban reality, more complex than in the Woluwe park, less open too. “First, autonomous shuttles are relatively slow. Then, they can only transport very few people. Finally, in terms of security, they are configured in such a way as to avoid all obstacles, but sometimes in an artificial way. They stop unexpectedly. When they pass a car, they will stop. This does not allow real fluid circulation in a context of passenger transport.

When the third test arrives, things get complicated. It is scheduled for March 2020. The Covid has interrupted everything. Nevertheless: the challenge was daring. The driverless vehicle was to transport users from the Houba metro station to the Brugmann hospital in Laeken. So, in town, in the heart of car traffic. A risky route with also left turns and tram rail crossings, but beneficial, for example, for patients with reduced mobility who have to reach the hospital for a consultation or treatment.

In spring 2021, STIB will relaunch the market. But faced with unsatisfactory offers in terms of security guaranteesshe decides not to sign anything.

The same conclusion abroad

Analyzing the previous tests, we conclude that the technology is not mature enough. This is also the conclusion of our partners, in other countries that have tested this technology. This is the reason why we are not going to continue the project“, adds Françoise Ledune. De Lijn, the Flemish public transport company has also abandoned its project. A vehicle had been put into service at the airport.

The door is not closed. We analyze the developments, we want to innovate in terms of the autonomy of public transport. But it’s not for now. There are also other ways to implement empowerment. I am thinking of the autonomy of the metro which, for reasons of safety and increased frequency, is called upon to become more autonomous.”

The first major driverless metro test is announced for the end of 2024. The vehicles will be put into service on the last section of line 5, from Ceria.

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