When Science Fiction Becomes Reality: Contactless Payments and Self-Driving Buses

As children we must have been in awe watching films like Herbie, the self-driving love bug and constantly asking our parents how is it possible that a car can drive alone? In our innocent and sensitive imagination, as young ones, we all aspired to have a car like that once we grew up. But it seemed like a supersonic mirage lightyears away. Or maybe not…?

In the real world, we cannot deny the numerous technological advancements revolutionising the transport sector on a global level. Yet what is perceived like a phenomenon locally, such as contactless payments and autonomous buses, is actually paving itself to reality.

With the former, the mission has been accomplished as all 400 bus routes in Malta are now equipped with a contactless payment technology where bus passengers can either use their contactless bank cards, smartphones or even their smartwatches. With the latter, undoubtedly questions and concerns have arisen. Nothing works in a vacuum and the macro is reached by a series of micros.

Bus passengers can either use their contactless bank cards, smartphones or even their smartwatches.

In Malta’s public transport system, technology is already the whole nine yards. In each bus there is the driver assisting technology that helps in safety, efficiency and pollution reduction; all passengers can watch in real-time the bus stop arrival times of each bus via the Tallinja App; the facility to book your trip on the On-Demand service and free WiFi service on each bus. Autonomy is the new craze and in Malta, presently, research and development are in their inception.

The autonomous bus shuttles currently on the market carry around 12 people. An interesting fact is that this new technology will eliminate human error, which accounts for more than 90% of traffic accidents. These autonomous vehicles use onboard sensors to detect the environment around them and are controlled through artificial intelligence.

Basing on academic research, in López-Lambas & Alonso’s (2019) paper entitled, “The Driverless Bus: An Analysis of Public Perceptions and Acceptability’, positive aspects of autonomous buses include the potential decrease in operational costs, reduction of road congestion, and reduction in transport emissions. On the other hand, in Nordhoff, De Winter, Kyriakidis, Van Arem, & Happee (2018) paper, ‘Acceptance of Driverless Vehicles: Results from a Large Cross-National Questionnaire Study’, the use of autonomous vehicle technology for public transport appears to be generally well accepted among citizens.

In fact, Singapore, Spain, the Netherlands and USA are among countries to have already started trialling the technology for public transport and on a local scenario, studies in Malta will be conducted on 4 main testing routes:

Route 1: Between the University of Malta and Mater Dei Hospital.

Route 2: An exhibition route on Republic Street in Valletta.

Route 3: Around the Ta’ Qali family park.

Route 4: Between Smart City and Esplora.

What do you think of these developments?

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