Trials of an autonomous passenger shuttle in Cambridge have been scaled back and will no longer seek to use the city’s controversial guided busway.
Connecting Cambridgeshire said that progress on the project has been disrupted by the pandemic and 'revised plans' are in place but insisted that Cambridge is ‘on track to be one of the first cities in the UK to have a ground-breaking autonomous shuttle service as part of its public transport network’.
In February 2018, Smart Cambridge, led by Cambridgeshire County Council, was awarded £3.2m Government funding to develop trial vehicles.
Coventry-based Aurrigo was tasked with developing a number of self-driving shuttles which could potentially be trialled on a southern section of the existing Guided Busway, when buses were not running.
The initial out-of-hours trial service was originally due to start this summer, running between the Trumpington Park and Ride site and Cambridge Railway Station via the Cambridge Biomedical Campus site.
However, Connecting Cambridgeshire stated that ‘following COVID-19 disruptions’, the project has been ‘refocused away from the Busway and onto the University’s West Cambridge site – where no modifications to the vehicle or built environment will be needed to run the trial’.
A report to the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership reveals that the end date for the trial has been moved from December to March 2021 while ‘two significant changes to scope’ have been agreed.
As well as the move away from the busway, three vehicles will be produced, rather than six,
The report states: ‘While this will not be as extensive a trial as we had previously hoped, officers remain positive that we are still able to deliver a smaller trial that will offer valuable insight into the deployment of AVs as part of the local transport offering.’
The current expected start date for vehicle trials is 1 October.
The decision not to pursue trials on the busway appears to be a significant setback for the project. A 2018 feasibility study stated: ‘The presence of the guided busway provides Cambridge with a unique test infrastructure for the demonstration of short-range public transport services using fixed-route Low Speed Autonomous Transport Systems (L-SATS)’
The project is unconnected to Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro scheme being promoted by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.