Swiss Post, the city of Sion and Valais authorities have announced that the 16-month experiment of running two PostBus driverless buses (with yellow-teeshirted attendants) through the pedestrian quarter of the Valais capital will continue “at least until the end of 2018”. The 11-seaters are free and use the livery of Swiss Post buses.
So far they have carried 60,000 passengers, and survey found over half (51%) had few qualms about travelling on the minibuses. This compares with a 2014 study that found safety concerns bothered 87% of people questioned in China, 78% in the United States, 77% in India and 75% in Japan.
The SmartShuttles were taken off the road for two weeks last year — and the software updated, when a smart bus hit the open rear door of a parked delivery van. It was also used to show off at a UN conference at the Palais des Nations earlier this past summer.
The two 11-seater yellow electric vehicles (with room for four people standing) are built by the French company Navya. Top speed is theoretically 20kmh. In fact they drove at an average of 6 km/h.
The SmartShuttle service’s utilitarian rationale has been to transport heavily-laden shoppers and pensioners 1.5km through the pedestrian streets to conventional bus stops on the edge of the city centre.
PostBus/PostAuto and the authorities are considering an extension to explore other options such as a bus “on demand” function. You can download a phone app to check on times.
Try Friday for a trip
The buses run only in the afternoon and not on Mondays. My recommendation would be Friday. Do the Sion market in the morning, lunch, and take the Smartshuttle for a ride when it starts at 3 pm. Two Fridays a month you can take a guided tour at 6.30-8 pm for CHF15 (in English on demand).
Other towns interested
The SmartShuttles “have attracted the attention of numerous companies, both at home and abroad, as well as numerous public institutions – in particular municipalities and associations – interested in testing this technology in situ,” PostBus says. As a result, another 20,000 passengers travelled on the minibuses at exhibitions abroad during the year. The bus was also tried out with success in Geneva to shuttle delegates to and fro during the 2017 World Health Assembly.
It’s a sign of how quickly people have become accustomed to the SmartShuttle that its prolongation — in time and geography — aroused little press attention. Even the PostAuto website does not mention the extension.
The fleet management software developer is BestMile in Lausanne and researchers at the Federal Politechnic EPFL are testing and improving the algorithms that control the automated shuttle fleet.
20 minutes (in French)