Self-driving cars could be used to bridge gaps in Britain’s public transport network, according to the findings of a new government-led study.
The survey, the first of its kind in the country, found that a whopping 72 percent believed the vehicles could be used to improve transportation – especially in rural areas.
Proposals put forward include better evening, night and weekend services, the creation of smaller, more direct services, and a shuttle service between villages and train stations.
Those who took part in the survey also said they believed self-driving vehicles (SDVs) could be used to reduce congestion and boost the economy.
But the research also highlights public concerns, with safety at the fore, along with the potential for job losses and the cost of setting up an already underfunded council.
Fully autonomous SDVs are not currently legal on UK roads, although some vehicles such as Teslas already have the technology built into their cars.
The government is currently reviewing SDV technology and a legal framework for its use on UK roads is being developed It is expected to be in place by 2025.
The study, led by the UK Department for Transport (DfT), trialled SDV in three locations (rural areas, towns and cities) to gauge public reaction to the technology.
Aurigo autonomous shuttles are being used to transport people to Alnwick in Northumberland, the Manchester Etihad Sports Center in Manchester and Taunton in Somerset as part of trials.
Aurrigo Auto-pods were also used for similar maneuvers on the private roads around Alnwick Castle and the walkway to Manchester City’s football stadium.
At the same time, the researchers exposed three different groups to low, medium, and high levels of SDV information and conducted a separate national survey as a control.
Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of those who took part in the national survey said they believed the vehicles could improve public transport connectivity, the report said.
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However, the proportion of the medium information group is as high as 63%, and the proportion of the high exposure group is as high as 46%. Both of them have tried the vehicle.
However, national surveys show that the public still has significant misgivings about the technology, especially the use of fully automatic SDVs.
Nearly a third (32%) of participants said they felt uncomfortable using self-driving public transport, while a similar number (36%) felt uncomfortable sharing the road with others.
One in five (20%) said they thought SDV would make public transport worse, while 14% said it would have no effect.
Participants also raised concerns about driver attrition, loss of social interaction, and the potential for trouble if a vehicle breaks down.
Some even said they feared a “dystopian” future.
But studies have shown that people’s attitudes toward SDV improve significantly after using these services.
After taking the Auto-Shuttle, 72% of the medium-reach group said they thought the SDV would improve local transportation connections, compared to 63% before taking the ride.
In January, passengers took a ride in a full-size self-driving bus for the first time in the UK.
Operator Stagecoach said a group of 22 volunteers took a test tour of the self-driving single-deck train on the Forth Road Bridge near Edinburgh as part of a joint design team.
It’s part of the CAVForth project, which said at the time it aimed to have five self-driving buses running scheduled services starting in the spring.
In August last year, the British government announced a £100 million investment aimed at putting fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2025.
SDV technology relies on multiple cameras and ranging lasers to navigate and spot vehicles, pedestrians and other obstacles.
Proponents say it could make roads safer and reduce driver error, but testing and rules and regulations around the technology are still being developed.