UK’s first zero-emission autonomous bus begins trials in Oxfordshire

Posted: 25 January 2023 | | No comments yet

The fully electric autonomous bus service, operated by First Bus and now being trialled on public roads, will offer passengers a greener, quieter and more innovative way to travel.

Zero-emission autonomous bus service begins trials in UK-first

Credit: First Bus

The UK’s first-ever zero-emission autonomous bus service has reached a key milestone, with trials on public roads commencing on 23 January 2023 in Oxfordshire.

The innovative new bus service, which is fully electric, will serve Milton Park Business, Science and Technology Park, near Didcot and Abingdon. The revolutionary service will improve the way that people move both around the park, which is home to 250 companies and 9,000 employees, and the wider Didcot region.

Part of the Mi-Link green travel programme, the Milton Park Circular service 1 is being operated by First Bus. The £4.3 million project has been funded by a £3 million grant from the UK Government, alongside a commercial and private sector partnership. The UK Department for Transport’s (DfT) Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) has provided this financial support through Innovate UK, helping to drive the project which has been delivered by a consortium comprising a range of experienced and diverse organisations.

Led by First Bus, the consortium comprising Fusion Processing Ltd, Oxfordshire County Council, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and Zipaboutwith Milton Park (as the host location) has brought this ambitious five-year project to fruition. The new 16-seat, fully accessible single-decker bus has a safety driver on board at all times to provide a personalised service and information to passengers.

The project is now in its final stages, having been established to demonstrate the application of autonomous vehicle technology to real-world service provision. By the time the research project completes at the end of 2023, the service will be connected with Didcot Parkway Railway station; a key Oxfordshire transport hub.

Autonomous bus

Credit: First Bus – Janette Bell, Managing Director at First Bus, and Richard Holden MP, Buses Minister.

Buses Minister Richard Holden MP joined senior directors of the consortium at Milton Park and was amongst the first to travel on the autonomous bus as part of a special demonstration.

Janette Bell, Managing Director at First Bus, said: “The launch of the UK’s first zero-emission autonomous vehicle is a stellar example of how technology can support modal shift with wide partnership working between local authorities, operators and local business. First Bus serves millions of customers in the UK, and we know that so many of our customers take the bus because they care about our planet and reducing their carbon footprint. We’re excited to now be able to offer them an even greener and quieter way to travel, and we cannot wait to hear some feedback on the new buses.”

Richard Holden MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for roads and local transport, said: “It’s thrilling to see our £3 million investment help British firms and engineers to pioneer new, exciting ideas to achieve our vision of a truly efficient and sustainable transport network. The launch of the UK’s first autonomous, zero-emission bus today is yet another key step towards achieving net zero, creating high-wage, high-skilled new jobs and opportunities while truly levelling up transport across the country.”

Innovate UK’s Executive Director for Net Zero, Mike Biddle, said: “The connected and automated mobility sector is of crucial importance to the UK, with the potential to deliver safer, cleaner and more efficient transport systems across a wider range of settings. This multi-connected and autonomous vehicles project, part of a wider package of government R&D funding, will deliver the research required to support the future of multimodal passenger carrying services.”