Driverless vehicles and electric buses were at the fore at last week’s Transports Publics show

 

i2eIrizar’s i2e

 

There’s no UK equivalent for the biennial Transports Publics show in Paris. Attended by more than 10,000 people, the show unites the world of public transport under one roof – private operators mingle with public authorities, and buses appear alongside trains, trams and bicycles. And although many of the exhibitors and the delegates are French, the self proclaimed ‘European mobility exhibition’ has an international outlook. This year’s ‘guest of honour’ was the Columbian city of Medellín.

The show is an opportunity to witness the issues that are causing the most excitement in the global public transport community. And on the basis of this year’s event, the main talking points are driverless vehicles and electric buses.

 

Driverless buses

Driverless buses are here! In fact, visitors to the show, including me, had the opportunity to take a test ride on two different driverless buses outside the exhibition building. I had a smooth uneventful ride, although a Dutch journalist showed me a video from his trip, which saw the vehicle brake sharply when a delivery driver moved a bit too close to the vehicle as he was unloading his van. A human driver would have anticipated this hazard and would have either honked the horn, approached more slowly, given a wider berth – or all three.

The vehicle in question, CarPostal’s all-electric driverless shuttle, will soon begin operating on the public highway in the Swiss city of Sion. Built by French firm Navya, sensors and cameras allow this nine-seater vehicle to find its way within a margin of error of one centremetre.

French group Transdev was keen to show off its credentials as a pioneer of driverless vehicles. It operates a fleet of six Navya shuttles at EDF’s nuclear power plant at Civaux, in south west France (PT133), carrying 2,000 passengers a day on a 2.4km route. A French-built Ligier EZ-10 driverless vehicle was meanwhile displayed on the group’s stand.

Mercedes-Benz displayed its sleek-looking F 015 Luxury in Motion driverless “research car” alongside the buses on its stand. Liberated from the requirement to drive the vehicle, the front seats can be rotated to face the rear seats, creating “a mobile living space”. This vehicle, powered by a fuel cell, is billed as a harbinger of future applications for buses.

 

100% electric

‘100% electric’ was the theme of the show, and these words were emblazoned on the destination displays of many vehicles. The message is that manufacturers are responding to the ambitions of cities like Paris, which has a target for 80% of buses to be fully electric by 2025 (the remaining 20% will be powered by biogas).

French manufacturer Bolloré exhibited its fully electric Bluebus. The 12-metre vehicle can transport up to 100 passengers and has a range of at least 180km. By the end of this year, 23 of these vehicles will operated by Paris transport operator RATP on the city’s first fully electric bus route – the 341, between Charles de Gaulle-Étoile and Porte de Clignancourt.

BYD exhibited a fully electric 12-metre bus. RATP is going to be testing buses from this Chinese manufacturer, the world’s leading electric vehicle maker. Its vehicles boast a range of 300km, with LFP batteries that BYD claims allow up to 10,000 recharging cycles – enough for some 30 years’ use.

Making its Transports Publics debut, Spain’s Irizar exhibited its fully electric i2e bus, which offers a range of 250km. Since January, the firm has launched six vehicles in Marseille, and is testing two more in Nice. A further two buses have been running in San Sebastián since 2014.

Belgian manufacturer Van Hool unveiled a fully electric version of its Exqui.City ‘trambus’.  This 18.6-metre vehicle carries 117 passengers and has a range of 120km. The first two of these vehicles will be delivered to Hamburg this summer. Belfast will begin operating a fleet of 30 hybrid-powered Exqui.City vehicles in 2018.

And it wasn’t just electric buses that were profiled in Paris. Rolling stock manufacturer Alstom offered details of its plans to supply a battery-powered version of its Citadis tram to the French city of Nice. Soon to be commissioned, this tramway will have no overhead lines, a world first. The energy is stored on the roof of the tram, but the batteries are recharged from ground-based equipment – in just 20 seconds – as the vehicle passes through stations.

 

COMMENT: Martijn Gilbert, CEO, Reading Buses

All modes of transport – under one roof

It was my first time at an event like this and with bus, rail and other modes, such as cycling, all under one roof – it was truly an all-encompassing ‘public transport’ show. Three things really stood out for me though…

Design and flair was in abundance on the vehicle exhibits, including the use of different interior colours and materials, mood lighting, glass roof panels and even bespoke features such as lit up logos on bus fronts (coming to Reading soon!).  This was a world away from the grey tones and hard seats I found at another mainland European show in Belgium last year.

Secondly the enormity of the French transport groups was very evident with Transdev, RATP, Keolis and even SNCF (in standalone form) all having large stands. It was very interesting seeing them demonstrate their latest thinking around vehicles, technology, ticketing, planning and partnerships. Their very interactive approach to outreaching with client bodies and other stakeholders isn’t something we really see at similar UK exhibitions.

Perhaps we should. After all, local authorities do attend some of the many UK conferences and exhibitions and operators pitching to them for new business, as well as maintaining existing relations, is becoming all the more important in the current climate of a Northern Powerhouse and wider devolution, Bus Services Bill or not.

And why shouldn’t shows like Euro Bus Expo be places that private sector clients (which many of us have for things like corporate shuttles) might want to attend, or be invited by their transport partners, to see the latest innovations and thinking, well beyond shiny vehicles and workshop equipment?

Lastly, and probably most fundamentally, was the presence of autonomous vehicles. I counted not one, not two, but five small autonomous buses, including some already in operation on private roads with Transdev and RATP. Having now experienced my first driverless bus ride, been dazzled by the sheer number of vehicles and demos at the show, it’s clear to me that this technology is more advanced than many of us think. There’s a way to go yet to refine the quality of ride, their alertness and filtering of hazards, but this technology is advancing at quite a pace and we learnt that the first deployment on a public road (in Switzerland) is just around the corner.

Perhaps small feeder vehicles, from more densely populated areas, will be how we’ll first see the impact of these. The important thing, as I see it, is that we embrace autonomous mass transit solutions and keep pushing the bus message around the efficient use of road space so that we can counter the very real risk from personal autonomous mobility. Even if some rides are shared, I’m not sure that growth in the car or pod-based market will do much to ease congestion?

The Transports Publics show was certainly thought provoking and it was great to get an insight into some very different approaches to some of today’s transport challenges and opportunities.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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