Autonomous buses are coming to the streets of Israel

An initial pilot will be carried out by four bus companies in order to pave the way to fully automated public transport.

 IS IT viable for the average resident to forgo their car and take the bus? (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
IS IT viable for the average resident to forgo their car and take the bus?
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The country’s first autonomous buses are making their way to Israel’s roads, according to an announcement from the Transportation Ministry, the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) and Ayalon Highways. On Sunday, the parties announced the names of the four companies that will carry out the autonomous bus pilot in Israel: Egged, Metropolin, Dan and Nateev Express.

In the coming months, the winning corporations are expected to begin a two-year, NIS 61 million pilot program after which they will be expected to commercially operate the lines using autonomous buses. As part of the pilot, the groups will operate independent public transport services on public roads, including transporting passengers.

“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,” According to Ran Shadmi, director of the National Public Transport Authority. “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 safety levels.”

“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.”

Ran Shadmi

The pilot will be carried out in two stages. First, the companies will prove the technological and regulatory viability, safety and business feasibility of the operation while running autonomous buses in closed, experimental areas. After that, the buses will begin operating autonomous bus lines on public roads, at a range that will increase during the two-year pilot period.

 Dr. Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority (credit: ISRAEL INNOVATION AUTHORITY) Dr. Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority (credit: ISRAEL INNOVATION AUTHORITY)

Why is Israel using autonomous buses?

The initiative is expected to reduce 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 within a few years.

“Israel has a leading position in the field of smart and autonomous mobility,” IIA chairman Dr. Ami Appelbaum said. “The number of Israeli start-ups 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 start-ups established, with an average annual increase of 26% during this period.

“The Innovation Authority and its partners in the private and government sectors must identify market, technological and operational opportunities to achieve the required growth in the number of users and in the range of smart mobility services in Israel,” he said.

“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.”