On the buses: autonomous public transportation isn’t quite here yet

autonomous public transportation

After my bus ride home this evening, I can’t help thinking that autonomous vehicles can’t come soon enough! Don’t get me wrong, the public bus service in Taipei is excellent for the most part. I have a choice of three nearby lines that can zip me down Dunhua South Road, up on the elevated highway to Xindian, and down to a stop nearby office in less than half-an-hour at rush hour – all for the princely sum of NT$30 ($1).

The problem is that the quality of some of the driving is sub-par, to put it politely. The worst part the sudden halts and starts when approaching traffic lights and bus stops that occur far too regularly and can play absolute hell on your back.

In theory, at least, autonomous vehicles would eliminate such problems by enabling a smoother ride than one delivered by a tired driver anxious to get back to the terminus to finish his shift on time. In practice, however, this transition will probably take longer than many of the boosters of the technology predict, particularly for privately-owned vehicles operating on open public roads.

The shift to autonomous public transportation, on the other hand, has the potential be much faster as long as the vehicles can be operated on fixed routes in dedicated lanes that are closed off to other traffic. The Taiwan government has announced tentative plans for the development of driverless shuttle services like this, but I’m not holding my breath as a strong political will be required to implement them.

China, in contrast, is already making serious plans to introduce such services in various cities nationwide. Indeed, VIA is involved in the development of a driverless bus in cooperation with Enchi for deployment in the city of Huzhou in Zhejiang and other places.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to hang on a little tight during my daily rides and not allow my overall appreciation for the service to be lessened by a few minor incidents. After all, the buses are still a lot less stressful to ride in than your average Taipei taxi.

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