Autonomous shuttles to get around the Belle-Idée site
January 19, 2021 | News
** The original version was published by Le Matin in French and can be found at: https://www.lematin.ch/story/des-navettes-autonomes-pour-se-deplacer-sur-le-site-de-belle-idee-694640526461**
An electric shuttle service will be set up on the 38 hectares of the Belle-Idée Psychiatric Hospital site. A software will make it possible to adapt the routes to user demand.
An on-demand public transport service provided by fully autonomous shuttles will be put into service in Geneva within a few weeks. This project, presented as a world first, is about to be deployed on the 38 hectares of Belle-Idée.
Three short blasts of the horn announce the arrival of the electric shuttle in the parking lot of this site of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) in Thônex. The vehicle with rounded corners and a capacity of 12 travelers was ordered two minutes earlier via an app.
The vehicle will take its passenger to the destination of his or her choice within the hospital park. A total of 53 locations, identified during the perimeter mapping phase, are served. Almost every entrance to the many Belle-Idée buildings is considered a virtual stop, explains Jeroen Beukers, autonomous vehicle expert at Geneva Public Transport (TPG).
This is the main difference with the experiences of autonomous vehicles carried out elsewhere in Switzerland. Until now, these shuttles have been running on a fixed line. In the case of the TPG project, a software developed by Bestmile, a company created at EPFL, allows the shuttle to adapt its route based on the requests made by users.
The smartphone application was designed by the young Geneva-based MobileThinking. This new technology makes it possible to deploy the three shuttles according to demand. The waiting and journey times are announced to the user, who can see where the shuttle that will pick him or her up is located at any time.
On board the shuttle, Melisa Fazlic, assistant at TPG for autonomous vehicles welcomes users. This engineer by training, who has also been a bus driver, is delighted with this new local transportation service. The vehicle does not need her intervention to operate, but the legislation requires the presence of an operator inside the vehicle.
Approached by the TPG to serve as an open-air laboratory for this project, the HUGs were quickly enthusiasticed by it. “It was the public transport, door-to-door aspect that won us over,” explains Mouna Asal, Head of the Mobility Plan at HUG. She relies on this invaluable aid, in particular for the movement of people with reduced mobility.
Visitors, patients and also the 3000 employees who work at Belle-Idée will be able to use the shuttles. Just like the students of the college located at the entrance of Belle-Idée and the residents of the collective accommodation center for migrants of La Seymaz. Its access will be free.
According to Jeroen Beukers, other sites were approached by the TPG to deploy these shuttles of a new kind, but Belle-Idée met all the criteria. The expert believes that we are currently in a transition phase. He sees the potential to develop this type of mobility in certain neighborhoods.
For now, the three shuttles crisscross Belle-Idée. Their small size allows them to slip through the narrow paths of the site surrounded by fields and forests. The service will be provided by around twenty employees, 7 days a week, initially during the day.
Last June, the TPG obtained the green light from the federal authorities to operate these autonomous shuttles. It was then necessary to map the Belle-Idée site. This operation and the adjustments took several weeks. The tests are continuing and the first users will be able to use the shuttles within a few weeks.
This new on-demand service has been developed as part of the AVENUE project (for Automous Vehicles to Evolve to a New Urban Experience), a European consortium supported by the European Commission. The cities of Lyon, Luxembourg and Copenhagen are also carrying out autonomous public transport vehicle projects.