Newcastle debuts driverless CBD to beach shuttle

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Newcastle debuts driverless CBD to beach shuttle

Complementing its smart city strategy.

The City of Newcastle on the NSW coast has today unveiled an automated shuttle bus it plans to run between the central business district and the beach to complement its existing transport strategies.

Newcastle’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Nuatali Nelmes, indicated the fully-electric driverless vehicle, from French manufacturer Navya, will initially be geared towards tourists, rather than everyday users.

“We are planning for passengers to be able to take in views of the City’s harbour along the proposed 2km loop service, from Watt Street along Wharf Road to Nobbys [beach] and back, making it very appealing to tourists,” Nelmes said.

“A larger circuit will include some of Newcastle’s other beachside destinations after a couple of months.”

That would mean the 11-seater bus will parallel some of the city’s new light rail line, before extending beyond the final tram stop to fully connect to the coast. Larger buses don’t regularly follow Newcastle’s winding coastline, making additional transport options a bonus for the city’s growing tourism market.

The city’s transport operator, Keolis Downer, said the trial is being developed in accordance with state and national legislation and regulations regarding traffic and autonomous vehicles.

“Over the next month, we will complete a rigorous safety testing program, on-road and off-road, to prepare the vehicle for customer services,” Keolis Downer’s New Mobilities manager Sue Wiblin said in a statement.

Despite being fully automated, the shuttle will always have a chaperone on board during the 12-month trial, who will be able to intervene and take control of the bus if required.

While the trial is set to determine how well driverless vehicles operate in the city’s mix of traffic and integrate with different public transit solutions, the City of Newcastle also indicated the tests would help gauge the public response and engagement with such services.

The trial was initially flagged in November last year, with the council saying the bus would be free for Novocastrians to use. It did not say whether that would still be the case in announcing the launch of the trial.

It also hopes to build on earlier successes in the ‘smart city’ space, including the launch of a publically-accessible internet of things (IoT) network designed to support council efficiency measures and support a nascent startup community.

“This is a major milestone for the city’s smart city journey, and I look forward to working with Transport for NSW and partners Keolis Downer on this unique opportunity to make the future of automated transport in Newcastle a reality as we transform the city into a living lab,” Nelmes added.

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