In its council meeting of 14 March 2018, the city of Monheim am Rhein (Germany) decided to introduce an old town bus line with three self-driving electric vehicles. This new line connects the old town with the bus station, creating a new public transport service. In particular, the use of locally emission-free vehicles underscores the city's claim to play a pioneering role in urban digitalization.
Vision of the City of Monheim
The city of Monheim am Rhein is not positioning the new line as a temporary pilot project, but as an additional new offer for the city's population and visitors, which should be maintained. Ideas for further expansion stages already exist. Initially, however, a first line is to go into operation in 2018. In this way, experience can be gathered and insights gained that will be indispensable for planning and implementing the next steps.
Daniel Zimmermann has been mayor of the city of Monheim am Rhein since 2009. At that time he was the youngest mayor in Germany and, together with his management team, has already implemented various innovations in the field of digitalization.
"Monheim am Rhein is fundamentally open to modern technologies. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that we will be the first city in Germany to offer a nationwide, free WLAN by the end of 2018," explains Zimmermann and shows how the idea of having self-driving vehicles run in Monheim came about: "Since we have an area within the city with the old town that is not optimally connected to public transport, the idea of installing a forward looking mobility solution there was an obvious one.
"Part of our Smart City strategy is to pursue only those projects that increase the quality of life and the attractiveness of the city as a location," Zimmermann clarifies and integrates the project with automated vehicles into the city's digitalization strategy: "We are implementing projects that will make Monheim am Rhein more technologically advanced, more socially inclusive and more resource-conserving. Since the self-driving buses meet all these criteria, they are a perfect match for our other Smart City projects".
"The reactions have been largely positive," says Zimmermann, pleased with how the project has been received by the people of Monheim. "Of course, in the course of introducing new technologies there are always fears, for example with regard to safety from accidents. However, the fact that there will initially be a supervisor on board who can intervene in exceptional situations has reassured many skeptics. After all, we can refer to the double safety of man and machine in this project".
A line through the old town
Already in the concept phase, the route selection for the new line was discussed intensively and changed several times. Initially, a shuttle service between the bus station on Rathausplatz and the Rheinaue beyond Kapellenstraße was planned. An on-site inspection revealed that crossing Kapellenstraße is still too difficult for a self-driving vehicle today. In the interest of safety, the planned route was therefore shortened. However, since the space available and the calm traffic management did not permit a turnaround in the carnival cabinet, the idea arose to make a loop via Poetengasse and turn back into Alte Schulstraße at the Schelmenturm. In order to realize this route, the city of Monheim simply turns the direction of the Poetengasse, a one-way street, around.
From Rathausplatz, the automated electric buses are sent every ten minutes along the approx. 3 km long route. This is not topographically difficult, but traffic is quite varied with the roundabout at Rathausplatz and the narrow passage through the old town gate at Schelmenturm. The stops along the route will be newly equipped.
Thus the line offers enough material to gather relevant experience for authorities, operators and vehicle manufacturers.
Operation by the public transports operator of the city of Monheim
The public transport operator of the City of Monheim (Bahnen der Stadt Monheim, BSM) will purchase, insure, register, maintain and operate the three electric vehicles, which, despite their name, now operate a pure diesel bus fleet. The staff are now acquiring the additional qualifications they need.
The parking space for the vehicles has already been identified: The hall, which used to be used for the maintenance of BSM locomotives, will serve as a shelter for the electric vehicles. The access road from the garage to the track has a length of approximately 2 kilometers. Of course, this section will also be used automatically.
Detlev Hövermann is Managing Director of BSM. He successfully led the company out of the economic crisis and continuously expanded its services. "In my opinion, the combination of electric and autonomous driving is particularly suitable for use in public transport because traffic flows can be bundled and directed so efficiently compared to individual traffic," says Hövermann, sharing his thoughts on the future with us. "I therefore assume that such systems will establish themselves on certain lines in the coming years, such as feeder traffic. We are already familiar with driver assistance systems in passenger cars that support the driver very well in the longitudinal and lateral guidance of the vehicle. The future of mobility is electric, autonomous and networked - and that also applies to public transport."
For Hövermann, this nationwide unique project is first about gathering experience and then transferring it to other lines in a further step. This applies both to the technology - keyword: electrification - and to operating procedures, personnel planning and everyday experience with the line. The project is also exciting for BSM employees. "Of course, my employees discuss the project internally with all its advantages and disadvantages, but they are looking forward to the new technology and to being part of it right from the start," adds Hövermann.
The project starts with vehicle procurement. As part of this, AMoTech GmbH contributes the specific requirements that play a role in self-driving vehicles. Once the selection has been made and the order triggered, a delivery time of three to four months can be expected. As the vehicles are not type-tested, each vehicle must be individually tested and approved for road use.
Project manager Alexander Schulze of AMoTech plays an important role in this, supporting BSM in vehicle procurement and then coordinating vehicle approval with the manufacturer, the relevant authorities and the test centres designated by them. In addition, he prepares the application documents for the operating permit and exchanges planning information with the BSM project manager.
"We have two major work packages in the project that are crucial for timely implementation," reports Schulze. "One is vehicle procurement. The requirements for the vehicle manufacturer must be precisely and clearly defined so that the vehicles can be delivered on time. We bring in the points that are specific to automated vehicles. The other is vehicle registration. This requires close cooperation with the authorities and test centres over the entire duration of the project. We work closely with TÜV Rheinland and clarify the requirements even before the vehicles are put out to tender in order to avoid costly and time-consuming rework."
The city of Monheim wishes to see the vehicles on the road by the end of 2018. It has thus presented an extremely ambitious schedule that puts Schulze under a great deal of pressure. "The decisive factor is that we make optimum use of the time, parallelize activities wherever possible, but also demand decisions in good time. We think and work anticipatively and ensure that the project proceeds smoothly," says Schulze, explaining his recipe for success.
Within the framework of the Swiss Transit Lab, AMoTech is carrying out its own project together with the Schaffhausen Transport Authority (VBSH). AMoTech is also working on several other projects in Switzerland. "Since the end of March, our own automated vehicle has been in daily use on public roads in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, on line 12 of the VBSH," reports Schulze. "We were able to work very constructively and solution-oriented with the Swiss authorities. Now we know what matters. We also got off to a good start in North Rhine Westphalia in this respect".