Autonomous vehicles: from streetcars to shuttles

The development of autonomous transportation solutions has become a critical challenge for the future of mobility. We already had autonomous subways, spread out all over the world, in places such as Barcelona, Paris, Beijing and Tokyo. Autonomous cars are now being tested in both China and California. The same goes for “flying taxis” – a major leap forward in urban mobility over the coming years. It now seems that this vehicular autonomy could considerably approve the famous “last mile” for users of public transportation.

Autonomy and economy

Guillaume Pepy is head of the French National Railway, SNCF. He has announced that autonomous, high-speed TGV trains will be running within five years. He has an ambitious plan to increase the frequency and improve the punctuality of services between France’s major cities. “For the Paris-Lyon route, we are planning for 16 trains per hour instead of the current 13, while reducing the number of delays by a third,” predicts Luc Laroche, who manages the project for SNCF.

Moreover, SNCF justifies this move toward autonomous operations due to the significant energy savings and greater environmental friendliness. Guillaume Pepy’s optimistic view is that “Autonomous trains are the future of mobility. All the pieces needed to build them are already in existence. All we need to do is combine them.” Nevertheless, this approach contrasts with the imperative of profitability that is leading to the closure of small stations and branch lines.

Work, transport and rest

This new allocation of resources does highlight the challenge of the last mile. Integrated systems, linking arrivals and departures, have become essential, enabling travelers to benefit from a “door-to-door” journey.

“The approach we have taken involves taking care of the journey from end-to-end, with a customized service offering,” commented Mathieu Dunant, Director of Innovation at RATP, the Parisian public transportation operator: “An autonomous vehicle comes to collect you from home, taking you to the public transportation option that will take you across a major city, with another autonomous vehicle waiting to take you to your final destination.”

Shuttles: the vehicle of the future?

In any event, this is the approach that Navya, a Lyon-based company, has taken to the development of its autonomous shuttles, aiming to implement a number of shared vehicles. The aim is to ensure that areas of employment (such as business parks) are well served. How? By linking them to other urban transportation options.
Lille also tested this shuttle type and invested for this €760.000.


The Lyon city as an example

A project is being launched in Lyon, having been instigated by Eiffage Energie Systems, with shuttles between the tram station and the Les Gaulnes business park being tested by around 1,500 employees. Olivier Maraval, Regional Director for Eiffage Energie Systems, clarified in an interview that, “From the outset, the decision was taken to provide a free shuttle that could be accessed by anyone.” He went on to explain that, to make it easier for the shuttle to travel through dense traffic, “As the shuttle approaches, traffic lights are warned and Mia [Navya’s shuttle] has priority.” V2X-type communication systems such as this will need to be incorporated into the local infrastructure.

Autonomous, yet human-monitored vehicles

For the moment, during this experimental phase, autonomous shuttles still need an on-board operator. However, they will soon be fully autonomous and controlled remotely. According to Olivier Maraval, only then will they become profitable. “The provision of enhanced, remote monitoring will reduce the operating costs of autonomous shuttles over the last mile.”

Complementary methods of public transportation

To ensure optimized routing with minimal wasted time, futuristic modes of transportation (trains, trams, subways, autonomous shuttles and autonomous vehicles) will need to be interconnected, with excellent geolocation and real time data transfers being assured. This means that the future is bright for companies that work with these technologies, even as our mobility needs increase.


To read: Clem’ obtains UGAP certification to create a more dynamic car sharing solution