Automated buses to be tested in Montreal

MONTREAL — Visitors to Montreal’s Olympic Park will be able to hop on a driverless automated bus next month to avoid the lengthy walk between tourism destinations at the home of the 1976 Summer Games.

Vehicle manufacturer Transdev will be testing its 12-passenger vehicle June 5 to 9 along the concrete route connecting a subway station to the stadium, Biodome, planetarium and other stops.

The sprawling facility which attracts three million visitors a year is ideal for a shuttle, says Olympic Park spokesman Cedric Essiminy. A driver used to ferry tourists around the park but it was abandoned more than a decade ago because it was inefficient.

He said technology needs to develop and costs to come down, but the concept has a long-term future.

“We are years away from implementing that technology in our everyday activities,” Essiminy said after the trial was announced at a transportation conference in Montreal.

“We’re taking baby steps but we’re taking steps.”

Transdev is one of several companies making vehicles that operate along a pre-determined routes, usually away from road traffic.

They are costly at more than 200,000 Euros (C$300,000). Mathieu Petit, a spokesman for Transdev partner EasyMile, believes it will be able to cut the price tag in half within a couple of years as demand and technology develop.

Proponents say the automated vehicles can be used where there isn’t sufficient traffic to warrant a full bus or tram. They are being tested at university campuses, parking lots and medical centres in several countries around the world.

Competitor Navya is in talks to bring its automated vehicle to an undisclosed location in Montreal, its first foray in Canada, said spokesman Redoine Zouitin.

Its larger 15-passenger electric vehicles carry 135,000 passengers a month in more than 10 countries.

“The idea is to add our service to an existing transportation system to allow people to leave their car in the garage at home and to be able to go from A to B completely by public transportation.”

Automated buses is one of the promising technologies the industry is working on as it looks to improve service while cutting greenhouse gas emissions, said one of the world’s largest operators of driverless transit vehicles.

“I definitely think it’s a path forward and you will see the industry start to evolve,” said Blaine Rigler, vice-president of RATP Dev, which operates three driverless rail lines in Paris.

The company is also bidding to operate the driverless light-rail vehicle in Montreal that will be built by the Caisse Quebec pension fund manager.

Montreal’s Transit Authority says it has no plans to add automated vehicles. Although the concept is interesting, it is too early in the development process, said engineering executive director Francois Chamberland.