Singapore pioneers electrified and automated public transport

Car sharing with autonomous vehicles could dramatically improve mobility in cities. Singapore is now pioneering in the field by exploring the potential of personalised, electrified and automated public transport.

With 5.5 million inhabitants and a population density of 7,697 people per square kilometer, Singapore is more dependent on efficient transport than any other major metropolitan area.

For this reason, it has spent years trying to crack down on the demand for private cars by imposing high taxes and charging up to 70,000 dollars for the certificates of entitlement required to own a vehicle.

Now, the city-state is working with researchers from the ETH in Zurich to explore the potential of personalized, electrified and automated public transport to improve urban mobility.

“The goal of my research group is a form of mobility that combines the convenience of a private car with the sustainability of public transport,” explained ETH Professor Emilio Frazzoli in a statement.

Currently, people use private cars only five per cent of the time on average, with the cars spending the remaining 95 per cent of the time standing in car parks and garages or on the street.

Frazzoli’s start-up NuTonomy, which develops control software for autonomous vehicles, began drawing up plans to test self-driving cars in Singapore in 2014. At around the same time, the professor published an article investigating how replacing all the private vehicles in the 719-square-kilometre city-state with shared, self-driving vehicles would affect traffic volumes. His results showed that the mobility needs of Singapore’s entire population could be met with some 40 per cent of the vehicles.

One year later, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled his vision of a “car-lite future” based on autonomous vehicles, the expansion of public transport and the fostering of slow traffic such as walking and cycling, according to the statement.

More than ten companies are currently testing their systems in the western part of Singapore Island. Plans are already in place to operate the first self-driving buses outside rush hours in three of the city’s suburbs starting in 2022.

Photo credit: J. Philipp Krone/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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