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Autonomous Vehicles in Europe: Focus on transit agency-led projects and initiatives [free access]

December 1, 2019

In Europe’s autonomous vehicle (AV) landscape, in addition to private companies, several transit agencies have also developed projects to test and deploy driverless vehicles. Transit agencies, however, have focused most of their efforts on trialling driverless shuttles with the broader goal of integrating these shuttles into their existing public transportation networks. Autonomous shuttles offer transit agencies the opportunity to improve their first-mile/last-mile connectivity, and in theory offer a safer mode of travel to commuters.


De Lijn in Flanders, Belgium, Transport for Greater Manchester in the United Kingdom, and Wiener Linien in Vienna, Austria are among the transit agencies in Europe that have implemented various AV projects.


Global Mass Transit, with the support of AV America, organised a conference on “Impact of Autonomous Vehicles on Public Transport” on November 13-14th, 2019 in Brussels. Some of the key takeaways from the case studies shared in the conference are discussed below.


Case Study 1: De Lijn, Belgium – Presented by Koen Schietecatte, Project Leader Autonomous Shuttle, De Lijn

De Lijn is a public transport agency founded in 1991. It operates a network of buses and trams in the Flanders region. With a fleet of around 400 trams and 2,200 buses and an annual ridership of 500 million passengers, De Lijn is one of the largest public transport operators in Europe.


In 2015, De Lijn partnered with Brussels Airport Company to test and deploy driverless shuttles at the airport. Dutch manufacturer 2GetThere was contracted to supply shuttles for the project. The pilot stage of the project is expected to last till 2020, in which the shuttle will operate in the Brucargo zone. The implementation stage is expected to commence in 2021 in which the shuttle will operate on the route between the terminal and Brucargo. Figure 1 depicts the shuttle routes for the two stages.


Figure 1: Shuttle routes for the two stages of the project

Source: De Lijn


Key project targets include:



Other autonomous shuttle projects in the pipeline

Antwerp + Mechelen + Leuven + Genk

Scope: Large-scale deployment of autonomous shuttles in the city.





Antwerp – Leftbank

Figure 2 depicts the planned route and the key metrics of this project.


Figure 2: Antwerp – Leftbank AV project

Source: De Lijn


Antwerp – Riverside

Figure 3 depicts the planned route and the key metrics of this project.


Figure 3: Antwerp–Riverside AV project

Source: De Lijn


Case Study 2: Transport for Greater Manchester, United Kingdom – Presented by Rafael Cuesta, Former Head of Innovation, Transport for Greater Manchester

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is responsible for providing public transportation in the form of light rail, buses, and heavy rail services in the Greater Manchester region in Northwest England. TfGM is part of various initiatives to develop and test AVs in the region.


Project Synergy

Project Synergy is an AV pilot project that aims to solve problems like air pollution, traffic congestion, and poor mobility by using emerging business models like Freight-as-a-Service (FaaS) and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Figure 4 lists the project partners.


Figure 4: Project Synergy Partners

Source: Transport for Greater Manchester


Key facts about Project Synergy:




The EUR6.4-million project funded by the European Union’s (EU) Horizon 2020 initiative is led by Loughborough University and includes TfGM, Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), City of Vienna and the Institute for Transport Economics (TOI) in Norway as its project partners.


Levitate’s goal is to help regional authorities and municipalities deal with the increasing scope of connected and automated systems. The project’s four key objectives are:



Figure 5 illustrates the project’s objectives.


Figure 5: Project Levitate’s objectives and targets

Source: Transport for Greater Manchester


Case Study 3: Wiener Linien, Austria – Presented by Susanne Pröstl, FTI-Coordinator, Wiener Linien

Wiener Linien, the public transport operator in Vienna, is the largest mass transit service provider in Austria. Its extensive network includes 129 bus lines, 28 tram lines, and five underground rapid transit lines. The agency averages an annual ridership of nearly 966 million passengers.


auto.Bus–Seestadt Project

The auto.Bus–Seestadt project is Wiener Linien’s initiative to test autonomous shuttles in public. The project partners are Wiener Linien, Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), Austrian Road Safety Board (KFV), TÜV Austria, Siemens Mobility, and Navya. Figure 6 depicts the project’s goals and the role that each of the partners will play in developing the project.


Figure 6: auto.Bus–Seestadt project goals and role of each partner

Source: Wiener Linien


Since June 6, 2019, two autonomous minibuses supplied by Navya have been operating along a 2-km-long circular route, Seestadt, with ten stops. The buses are programmed to follow the pre-planned route to within a centimetre.


The buses are equipped with both 2D and 3D Lidar sensors and are supported by GNSS localisation (GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS). They can seat up to ten passengers and can travel at a top speed of 20 km/h. Figure 7 depicts the test track for the project.


Figure 7: Test track for the auto.Bus–Seestadt project

Source: Wiener Linien


Challenges facing transit agencies

Transit agencies still face several challenges in their efforts to fully integrate autonomous modes of transport with existing mass transit networks.


In July 2019, just a month after the launch of Wiener Linien’s auto.Bus–Seestadt project, one of the shuttles being tested collided with a woman. Although the woman suffered only minor bruises, the transit agency had to temporarily suspend the pilot and had to conduct a proper investigation into the causes of the collision.


While AVs have been presented as a solution to the ever worsening problems of traffic congestion faced by cities, in the short term at least self-driving cars and shuttles are not equipped to replace existing cars and buses as adequate substitutes. As a result, their deployment might increase traffic congestion. 


The advent of AVs might also result in a situation where policymakers draw up plans for cities with vehicles in mind but at the expense of other considerations like pedestrian safety, shared mobility, and the general needs of the community.