From Mass Transit Magazine:
Autonomous or self-driving vehicle technology would allow BRT operators to link multiple buses together seamlessly, adapting to demand and adding capacity as needed. Autonomous systems could be calibrated so that the buses traveled inches apart at all times, often traveling in train-like platoons. In theory, autonomous bus rapid transit could scale up to as many vehicles as needed and it would help operators maintain bus headways when there is congestion. Depending on the size of the autonomous buses, current turning restrictions common for larger vehicles and trains, could be alleviated.
Improved safety is another potential benefit of autonomous rapid transit. According to the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database, there were 3,250 collisions, almost 13,000 injuries, and 92 fatalities involving buses in 2011. These figures translated to approximately $483 million in casualty and liability expenses. Autonomous technology would greatly reduce the number of bus-related accidents. Emergency braking systems, which have been shown to have improved reaction times as compared to human drivers, would be engaged automatically when other vehicles, bicyclists or pedestrians were detected as being too close. The systems could also detect potential rear or side impact collisions and adjust the speed or position of the bus to avoid them.
BRT includes train-like level boarding, which eliminates the need for riders to climb stairs — a feature that is particularly beneficial for the elderly or users with mobility impairments. Autonomous bus rapid transit, though, would enable true precision docking, allowing buses to get close to the curb consistently, removing the time-consuming task of deploying a boarding extension to bridge the gap between the bus and the platform.
Autonomous buses may also not need drivers, reducing operating costs. Instead, these staff could provide control center operations, customer service for the agency, or be dispatched when there are breakdowns. Autonomous buses could also operate in a narrower lane than conventional BRT vehicles, saving on capital costs and allowing BRT to be implemented more easily in confined rights-of-way.
Not only would autonomous, all-electric buses improve efficiency, enhance safety and reduce costs, but they would also eliminate emissions and noise, improve urban quality of life and lower the system’s carbon footprint. While these systems are still evolving and are not quite ready for the streets today, autonomous bus rapid transit could soon be the next evolution of BRT—one that provides the best qualities of light rail while providing the most efficient and cost-effective option for moving riders along strategic corridors.