The UK’s first zero-emission autonomous bus service goes live to the public for the first time in Oxfordshire.
Operated by First Bus and fully accessible for wheelchair and pushchair users, the 15-seater fully electric bus will carry passengers around Milton Park – a business, science and technology park near Didcot and Abingdon – which is home to more than 250 companies and 9,000 employees.
Services will run every 15 minutes between 7am and 6.30pm Monday to Saturday. A qualified safety driver is on board the bus at all times to provide a personalised service and information to passengers.
John Birtwistle, Project Lead at First Bus, said:
“Today is a landmark for public transport in this country. This service brings together technologies in zero-emission bus design, vehicle movement and travel planning to create a new experience.
“First Bus serves millions of customers in the UK, and we know that so many of our customers take the bus because they care about our planet and reducing their carbon footprint. We’re excited to now offer them an even smarter, greener and quieter way to travel, and we cannot wait to hear some feedback on the new service.”
Branded Mi-Link, the bus service is part of a 5-year project called MultiCAV – comprising a range of experienced and diverse organisations led by First Bus, as well as Fusion Processing Ltd, Oxfordshire County Council, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Zipabout and Milton Park.
The £4.3m project has been funded by a £3m grant from the Department for Transport’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) through Innovate UK.
Journeys further afield to Didcot Parkway train station, including a service using a larger electric bus capable of carrying up to 28 passengers, are expected to be added later in the year.
Jim Hutchinson, CEO at Fusion Processing Ltd, said:
“This is a significant milestone in the rollout of autonomous vehicles on public roads, and it has Fusion’s ‘CAVstar’ Automated Drive System at the heart of it. CAVstar is a combination of state-of the-art software and hardware that enables fully autonomous operation of the bus as it carries passengers around the site.”
The Mi-Link journey planner tool – developed by Zipabout to support the service – is the first in the world to use WhatsApp for autonomous bus messaging.
Daniel Chick, CTO of Zipabout, said:
“We’re very excited to see the launch of this innovative fully electric autonomous bus service, which integrates with Zipabout’s technology to provide passengers with the customised Mi-Link journey planner.
“As part of the service, passengers now have hassle-free access to a variety of tools helping them travel around Milton Park seamlessly. With no cumbersome app to download, they can receive real-time information about all the Mi-Link services through their favourite channels, including WhatsApp or SMS.
“Using the data and insight from the Zipabout Platform, local authorities and operators can now better understand transport demand in the area, paving the way to helping people get to and around Milton Park more sustainably.”
Cllr Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy, said:
“Oxfordshire is at the forefront of the developments in autonomous vehicles and we, as a council, are proud to be a partner. Innovation like this has an important role to play in helping us achieve our goal of creating a net-zero transport network by 2040.”
Veronica Reynolds, Sustainability and Community Manager at Milton Park, said:
“The free autonomous bus service will enable people visiting or working at Milton Park to travel emissions-free to key destinations around the Park, reducing the need to use a car.
“We’re really looking forward to hearing more from our occupiers, visitors and the wider community on their experience of using the autonomous bus, e-bikes and journey planner. Their feedback will be pivotal in shaping the next steps of cutting-edge and sustainable travel in the UK.”
Professor Graham Parkhurst, UWE Project Lead, said:
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to find out what people think and feel about the new transport technologies at Milton Park.
“This information will advance our research on the future role of the bus in enabling people to travel more sustainably across the country.”
For more information on the service, please visit the Mi-Link website here: www.mi-link.uk