A reader begs to differ with this one pushing for driverless buses:
My spouse, who does transportation planning consulting, tells me that driverless or not, buses (and subways, etc.) must have a person on board who is responsible for keeping order and handling emergencies. This role is currently filled by the bus driver. A switch to self-driving buses will not reduce labor costs because that person still needs to be on the bus.
I think that the future of public transportation are fleets of small, self-driving cars, backed by sophisticated scheduling and routing software. Riders register their commutes, the car shows up at the right time where you want it, and drops you off where you need to be. Buses will never achieve this level of service. Using the blunt instrument of “boardings per day” as a metric, the self-driving cars will blow the buses out of the water. Also, there’s no reason why this couldn’t be a for-profit endeavor. In fact, Uber is already talking about it.
I should also add that buses are expensive to purchase and maintain. As the price of small, driverless cars comes down, it will start making economic sense to prefer the fleets of self-driving cars over buses. Especially if they’re electric, which is a foregone conclusion.
The above video shows what appears to be the first driverless bus, featured in a Singaporean newscast uploaded five months ago. Update from a reader:
I live and work at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (featured that video you posted). Every day I pass numerous signs warning me to be on the lookout for these infamous driverless shuttle buses. But I have yet to see one of these elusive buses; all I ever see are the numerous campus shuttle buses with real human drivers. Clearly, this is something that must not be quite ready for prime time.