Autonomous electric bus trials to take place in Oxfordshire

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A new consortium has gained funding to trial autonomous electric vehicles in Didcot, Oxfordshire

Staff working at Milton Park near Didcot will soon be able to benefit from an automated public transport service after Oxfordshire County Council signed an agreement to procure an electric, self-driving minibus with partner Fusion Processing.

Oxfordshire County Council is part of a consortium awarded funding of £2.5 million from Innovate UK for the project, known as MultiCAV (Multi connected and autonomous vehicle), which means travellers to and from the business park will be able to book a combination of travel options (shuttle buses, taxis, e-bikes and the Fusion minibus) from a single place. Other partners include South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse District Councils, Arrival, FirstGroup, Zipabout and the University of the West of England.

Despite being relatively close to Didcot Parkway railway station, the partners said that most travel to and from Milton Park is currently made in private vehicles. It is hoped that by the end of the trial, up to 50% of private vehicle journeys within Milton Park will switch to using all types of electric-powered vehicles in the trial.

Councillor Duncan Enright, Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy, said: “Oxfordshire is a highly innovative and world-leading research-based economy and we are delighted to be supporting this trial here.

“Automated transport will have a vital role to play in our sustainable economic recovery. It will also open up a range of benefits in our fight against climate change and congestion. This will ultimately be a great service for workers at Milton Park, connecting people and communities with employment locations in an area noted for innovative growth.”

Bristol-based Fusion Processing is the consortium behind developing Europe’s first full-sized autonomous bus for CAVForth. CAVForth is the world’s most complex and ambitious full sized autonomous bus pilot, part funded by Innovate UK, it will deliver a fleet of five AV Level 4 buses providing a scheduled passenger service along a 30 mile route between Edinburgh and Fife, across the Forth Road Bridge in 2021, carrying up to 10,000 passengers per week. Fusion is working in partnership with Stagecoach Group, Alexander Dennis, Transport Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University and the Bristol Robotics Lab on that project.

Fusion Processing’s Chief Executive Officer Jim Hutchinson, said: “We’re delighted to be selected by another important automated bus project, MultiCAV, to provide our CAVstar automated drive system for use on electric buses. This vehicle technology can offer great benefits to the public transport and commercial vehicle sectors, and we have focused hard on understanding vehicle operators and providing a practical system that meets their requirements. The MultiCAV project will demonstrate how automated vehicles can provide effective on-demand transport on local routes, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

In addition to the Fusion minibus, partner Arrival will supply an electric driverless full-size bus later in 2021.
John Birtwistle, First Bus Head of Policy, added: “First Bus welcomes the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and expertise through working closely and effectively with our consortium members as part of the MultiCAV project.
“As leaders in sustainable mobility, we are dedicated to accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon world. This trial will help us grow our knowledge of how services complementary to our mainstream bus, coach and rail operations might extend the scope of public transport to deliver a more sustainable future for the communities we serve.”