We’ve been hearing about several up-and-coming trends in the vehicle industry for a long time. Ride-sharing is the “now” thing, as are emissions-cutting electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles represent the future of motoring. That future has already arrived in the German spa town of Bad Birnbach with autonomous mini-buses taking to the roads.
The ride has all the characteristics of the new transport everyone’s been talking about. It’s an electric vehicle, it’s shareable, it’s environment and disabled-friendly, and it’s safe.
No Safety Scandals for Deutsche Bahn
Anyone who has been watching developments in autonomous cars with interest will know that there have been some nasty incidents involving autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. There was the autonomous Uber cab that killed a woman in Arizona, and Tesla took a blow to its safety record when its semi-autonomous vehicles failed to recognize hazards and crashed. Google’s autonomous car tests have also not been without incident.
Events such as these may have led us to believe that we’re still a long way away from customizable and safe autonomous transport. However, Deutsche Bahn, owners of the new public transport service working with its Frankfurt-based autonomous vehicle brand ioki, isn’t taking any chances.
Although the vehicle has no steering wheel or accelerator, an operator is ready to intervene in case the vehicle’s autonomous systems don’t work as they’re supposed to. That’s just for the present. Once the ioki buses have proved their mettle, the operator may well be dispensed with. It seems as if that time isn’t too far in the future.
A People-Friendly Solution for Public Transport
For now, ioki sees its buses as a supplement to public transport as we currently know it rather than a replacement. The company says that it’s providing a “last mile” solution, filling the gap where public transport ends and people’s transport needs begin.
The Bad Birnbach bus illustrates the concept, taking people the last 700 meters from the town center to the thermal springs that are the town’s biggest tourist attraction. But there’s more in store. Ioki has already built in the capacity to summon its vehicles using a mobile phone app, and that would allow people to call for a ride from any location. The vehicle would then take them to the nearest public transport stop.
Ioki Public Transport In Bad Birnbach, Germany
People in rural areas are underserved with public transport options too and may even own a vehicle just because they need to get from home to the train station or bus stop. Even when the car in question is environment-friendly, it places a financial burden on its owner and contributes to traffic congestion.
There’s also the question of helping the disabled with mobility solutions, and again, ioki thinks it has the answers they need.
Deutsche Bahn is eager to go the extra mile with its ioki brand and sees on-demand rides as part of the future it’s working towards. Bad Birnbach and its six-person mini-bus is likely to be nothing more than the first step towards a customizable public shuttle system that could eliminate the need for vehicle ownership altogether.
The Vehicles: More Than Just the Mini-Bus
The mini-bus that plies the streets of Bad Birnbach is a boxy little six-seater that looks like half a loaf of bread. It’s cute, and it’s compact, but it’s by no means the only option that Deutsche Bahn and ioki are developing.
— Nahverkehrs-praxis (@NP_aktuell) 24 April 2018
The City of Hamburg plans to roll out driver-based shuttles from ioki this year. The rides will be on-demand and will connect smartphone users to the existing public transport system. Driverless bus trials are also planned for the city this year.
First field trials for an on-demand autonomous tuk-tuk service in Frankfurt are underway, with ioki employees as acting as the test clients. The current test fleet consists of 13 three-wheel mini-vehicles, and ioki has already developed the apps that will allow passengers to book and pay for rides.
App-Cantered Control for Passengers, Drivers and Service Operators
Apart from passengers using an app to order the ride-sharing service, drivers also get an app. This time it’s to help them navigate the most efficient route to collect their passengers while coordinating all the trip requests they receive.
Meanwhile, an operator-based software package allows administrators to get an overview of the fleet based on their roles with the transport operator. A marketer or customer service official can quickly see the analytics they need to make decisions, as can the operational controllers who plan and run the system.
The various apps and analytics software packages are currently being tested in practice, and by the time the system enjoys widespread adoption, it should be ready to handle just about anything that the real-life needs of all players can throw at it.
What it All Adds Up To
Clean electricity is an area in which Germany has become a worldwide leader. While some countries may still rely heavily on polluting coal-fired power stations and the hazards of nuclear energy, Germany has quietly been switching over to clean energy sources and renewable energy-sharing with its neighbors.
A private electric vehicle can already save a considerable amount of emissions. But with ride-sharing electric vehicles preparing to hit the mainstream in a big way, energy demands will be slashed. If ioki realizes its vision of making private vehicles redundant, the pressure on energy networks and the emissions from traditional vehicles will be substantially reduced.
Quieter roads and more pleasant urban environments will also become a reality. If an electric shuttle carries six people who would otherwise have used a private vehicle, there will be five fewer vehicles on the roads. Multiply that by the number of ride-sharing vehicles available, and the impact could be enormous.
Finally, people will be better off. Maintaining and running a private vehicle has costs, but people continue to buy vehicles out of necessity or a desire for convenience. With both need and ease of use out of the equation, more people will use ride-sharing vehicles and public transport, and while this has its own costs, they will be far lower than those of private vehicle ownership.