Prepare for driverless buses in London, TfL is told in vision of future for capital's transport

TfL should start preparing for the use of driverless buses across London, according to major report on the future of the capital’s transport.

Huge changes are foreseen to the way transport operates in the capital over the coming decades, and autonomous vehicles are expected to play a significant role, the London Assembly report said.

Experts believe the roll-out of advanced autonomous vehicles – for example, cars without a steering wheel – could occur across London over the period from 2030 onwards.

It comes after Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond predicted in November that “fully driverless cars” would be on Britain’s roads by 2021.

The report said it is “likely” that vehicles of varying levels of autonomy will become a significant feature of London’s roads over the next two decades, adding that Transport for London needs to immediately start preparing for such changes.

These include driverless buses, which have already been trialled in various places including on a public bus route in Estonia last year.

Meanwhile a driverless shuttle bus was tested on the streets of Greenwich last year in the first extended trial of its kind in the UK.

It is believed autonomous vehicles could help improve road safety if are programmed to give more space to vulnerable road users, driving in a way that will reduce the risk of collisions.

However they could add to congestion, and because of that the London Assembly said it favours driverless buses over driverless cars.

The report also looked into the possibility of dockless cycle hire – and in particular whether to introduce a London-wide licensing regime for such a scheme.

Keith Prince AM, Chairman of the London Assembly Transport Committee said: “Autonomous vehicles could make roads safer.

“Dockless bikes could spread the benefits of cycling to the whole city and demand-responsive buses could give people a public transport service tailored to their needs.

“The opportunity to improve mobility for millions of Londoners is here but it will require proper planning, transparency and accountability, as well as cooperation with government, boroughs and development companies.”

The report was also critical of the way TfL has adapted to the rapid growth of Uber and disruptive launch of dockless cycle hire service oBike.

Mr Price said: “TfL have been caught napping on the technology front and it’s time to wake up.

“Uber, then oBike are two examples of a poorly prepared regulator which seems to be making it up as they go along.

“Go back to 2014 – in its ‘Future Proof’ report, this committee warned that ‘TfL needs to be prepared for the inevitable consequences of a transport environment in which technology is evolving faster than the legislation that is needed to govern its use.’

“It’s clear that warning was ignored – let’s hope this warning won’t be.”

Michael Hurwitz, Director of Transport Innovation at TfL, said: “This report outlines the challenges that all cities across the UK, including London, face when considering how transport will operate in the future.

“We work with a wide range of tech companies around the world to support and learn from innovation that could improve transport across London.

“As part of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, many of these elements are already being considered and TfL is involved in a number of pilots and initiatives to help ensure that any introduction of new technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones is safe, environmentally-friendly and consistent with our focus on walking, cycling and green public transport.”

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