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Israel is on the road to national autonomous public transport

Ministry of Transportation selects four groups to carry out autonomous bus trials. A two-year-pilot is expected to begin soon

Autonomous bus illustration. BIGSTOCK Copyright: mast34
Autonomous bus illustration. BIGSTOCK Copyright: mast34

In a major step towards advancing autonomous public transport in Israel, the Ministry of Transport, the Israel Innovation Authority and Ayalon Highways today (Sunday) announced the four companies that will carry out the autonomous bus pilot in Israel.

In the coming months the winning corporations are expected to begin a two-year pilot program operating autonomous buses, with an investment of NIS 61 million – half of which comes from government funding.

Upon completion of the program, the winning corporations are expected to commercially operate the bus lines using autonomous buses. As part of the pilot, the groups will operate independent public transport services on public roads, including transporting passengers, with approval of the Ministry of Transport's National Public Transport Authority.

This will be achieved in two stages with the goal of examining the viability of integrating autonomous vehicles into Israel's public transport system.

During the first stage of the initiative, the winning companies will carry out pilots on autonomous buses in a closed experimental area and in operational areas, with the aim of proving technological, regulatory, safety and business feasibility. During the second stage of the initiative, the companies will operate an autonomous bus lines on public roads, at a range that will increase during the two-year pilot period.

The expected benefits from the initiative are intended to help address one of the biggest challenges facing the State of Israel – traffic congestion – by streamlining public transportation, improving service and passenger experience, and improving safety levels.

The initiative is also expected to help the State and the transport authorities cope with the problem of a lack of manpower and the serious shortage in drivers, by transitioning to a fleet of autonomous buses without a safety driver (SAE J3016 L4) within a few years.

Thanks to the initiative, it will also be possible to map the required infrastructure for operating an autonomous public transport system, and to test the business organizational capability of public transport operators, with the aim that companies which successfully pass the pilot will be able to continue and to expand their autonomous public transport services in Israel.

The initiative's pilot program is amongst the leading worldwide (compared to similar programs in Michigan – USA, Scotland and Germany), which integrates several bus operators and different tech companies and will take place on different and varied test sites for a an extended period of time, until the technology is commercially viable.

The winning companies are:

1. Metropolin, B.G. Motors, Karsan (Turkey), Adastec (Michigan, USA), Applied Autonomy (Norway) and Ottopia (Israel) – Metropolin is one of the largest public transport operators in Israel. The group has a wealth of experience at all stages of the pilot program – providing the autonomous vehicles, retrofitting them with the required equipment to run autonomously, licensing them and taking care of ongoing operations.

2. Egged and a leading French technological company – Egged, the largest public transport operator in Israel and one of the largest in the world, has harnessed all of its accumulated knowledge and experience from decades of operations to provide a complete, holistic solution for operating autonomous public transport vehicles.

3. Dan, Via (Israel), EasyMile (France), Enigmatos (Israel) and Ottopia (Israel) – Dan is firmly established as one of the leading tech-oriented companies in the local public transport sector, advancing innovation through its Bubble Dan and Via subsidiaries.

4. Nateev Express and Imagry (Israel) – Nateev Express, part of the Afifi Group, has extensive experience providing public transport services. Imagry is an Israeli start-up company that is developing a software platform for autonomous driving that is intended for usage in a wide range of applications and markets.

“ We chose the four most promising proposals, and are pleased to be among the first in the world to bring autonomous vehicle technology and public transport together. There is still a long way to go but we have no doubt that this initiative has the potential to improve the service and the passenger experience on public transport and to improve the safety levels,” said Ran Shadmi, Director of the National Public Transport Authority.

"The number of Israeli startups in the field of smart transportation has increased from 400 in 2016 to more than 600 in 2020. The most significant growth has been in the number of autonomous vehicle startups established, with an average annual increase of 26% during this period,” commented Dr. Ami Appelbaum, Chairman, Israel Innovation Authority.

“By creating an advanced regulatory infrastructure that will allow the operation of driverless autonomous vehicles, and the activities of the four excellent groups in the framework of the call for proposals, the State of Israel is harnessing the autonomous vehicle to improve Israeli public transport, which will eventually turn Israel into a world leader in autonomous public transport pilots enabling Israeli companies to become global leaders in this sector."

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