Paris rolls out driverless bus service to fight pollution and congestion

The EZ10 bus, pictured here on the streets of Stockholm, is now being trialed in Paris. [Per Orlof Forsberg/ Flickr]

Paris yesterday (23 January) launched its first driverless electric shuttle bus service, aiming to curb congestion and pollution that many Parisians blame for a whole raft of health complaints.

The French capital has a serious pollution problem and numerous schemes have already been tried to try and cut down smog levels, including shutting the Champs-Élysées thoroughfare once a month to traffic.

Now Paris is taking it to the next level and has launched a driverless electric shuttle bus service, which the capital’s authorities also hope will help ease congestion that clogs the city’s streets every day.

Sensors and cameras tell the EZ10 bus when to stop and start, how fast to go and in which direction.

The 130-metre (142-yard) test route links the Gare de Lyon and Austerlitz train stations, two of the city’s busy transport hubs on either side of the Seine river. Other routes will be introduced this year, the city’s authority said in a statement.

EU countries want legal change for driverless cars – but they'll have to wait

Driverless cars have figured into several EU policy plans lately, as politicians have advocated for speeding up work on the technology to stop countries like the United States from having a leg up on European auto manufacturers.

And it isn’t just Paris that is getting in on the act. Lyon in central France has also been testing a driverless bus service.

Driverless cars are appearing more and more in EU policy plans, as European lawmakers advocate allocating time and money in order to prevent the United States or China getting a head start.

But the technology faces obstacles, as some critics complain that EU countries won’t manage to get driverless cars out before the US because 21 out of 28 EU countries signed onto the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, a UN treaty that requires a driver to be able to take control of a vehicle at any point. The Convention allows for testing of driverless cars, but it doesn’t allow them to run on public roads without a driver in control.

European mayors urge clampdown on diesel emissions

The mayors of 20 European cities including Madrid, Paris and Copenhagen, but excluding London, have called for more stringent regulations to be put in place across the continent to tackle the deadly levels of air pollution caused by diesel vehicles. EURACTIV’s partner edie.net reports.

Even though France is a signatory to that Convention, a precedent has already been set. In the Helsinki neighbourhood of Hernessari, one driverless bus made by French manufacturer Easymile transported commuters at a maximum speed of 40 kilometres per hour during a trial period. Finland is also a signatory to the Vienna Convention.

Eetu Pilli-Sihvola, a special adviser at the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, says that was possible because of how Finnish regulators interpret the treaty’s requirement of a driver who can take control of the vehicle.

Background

Connected cars use internet connectivity to perform various functions, including measuring location, road conditions and car performance.

Fully autonomous or driverless cars do not need driver intervention to function. Car companies have been calling for laws that would allow autonomous cars to drive more freely in Europe.

The EU has been organising initiatives to promote road safety and traffic management by pooling information provided by cars that are hooked up to the digital network infrastructure, as early back as 2010. In particular, the EU executive wants wants the industry to convert their efforts into "a global market success" via enhanced co-operation and standarisation of ICT-aided cars. Car manufacturers have also invested heavily in these.

The European Commission has announced that it will propose legislation in 2016 that will impact connected cars.

The GEAR 2030 working group will meet for two years starting in January 2016, and focus in part on autonomous vehicles.

The Commission's transport department DG Move will make changes to the intelligent transport systems directive in 2018 that will affect data protection and secure communication between vehicles and infrastructure.