A Slow Ride Toward the Future of Public Transportation
HELSINKI, Finland — A small electric bus chugged along at a slow but steady seven miles per hour when a white van, entering the street from the side, cut in front of it. The bus slowed, as if its driver had hit the brakes, and got back up to speed after the van moved out of the way.
But this bus has no brake or accelerator pedal. It has no steering wheel, either. In fact, it doesn’t have a driver — it operates using sensors and software, although for now, a person is stationed on board ready to hit a red “stop” button in an emergency.
At a time when self-driving cars are beginning to make progress — most notably with a trial program that the ride service Uber began in Pittsburgh this fall — the bus represents a different approach to technologically advanced transportation.
A driverless car, after all, is still a car, carrying at best a few people. By transporting many passengers on what could be very flexible routes, driverless buses could help reduce the number of cars clogging city streets.