Since 27 March 2018, the self-driving electric bus "Trapizio" has been operating daily for four hours in Neuhausen am Rheinfall. In its first year of operation, it has already carried over 25,000 passengers. Passenger reactions have been predominantly positive. But what about the acceptance among the local population?
There is always an accompanying person on board who keeps an eye on the traffic situation and, if necessary, takes over manual control of the vehicle. The accompanying person makes a significant contribution to this success by actively inviting initially hesitant passers-by to a ride. Once on board, interested passengers receive information from the escort about the vehicle and how it works, as well as about the project in general.
Positive reactions from the passengers
You might get on-board sceptically, but you will disembark with a smile on your face. On a trip through the centre of Neuhausen, you can experience how an automated vehicle behaves in various traffic situations: Pedestrian stripes, right steps, co-use of bus stop bays, exit from a square with turning into the main road, etc. Hardly anyone who is not convinced that self-driving vehicles will play an important role in the mobile future.
Three main groups of passengers can be distinguished: Local people and Rhine Falls tourists as well as trade visitors from the public transport sector. Local residents will be supplied with information on the project on an ongoing basis via the local newspaper and local radio. They consciously include a trip with Trapizio in their daily programme and often bring their own visitors with them to participate in the experience of "automated driving".
Most of the local media mentioned above report positive results. There is a great response in the social media, with a predominantly positive basic tenor, although a critical voice has been heard here and there. From a subjective point of view, there is a great deal of support for the project.
Acceptance in the population?
In order for self-driving vehicles to become a reality in public transport, it must be possible to do without the accompanying person. This is the only way to maximize their benefits by implementing cost-effective solutions for the first and last mile using flexible small vehicles. This requires adjustments to laws and regulations. In a democracy, however, such adjustments can only be made if the population so wishes. It is therefore clear that the acceptance of automated driving by the population is of crucial importance.
In order to have this acceptance examined according to objective criteria, the Swiss Transit Lab, which is carrying out the "Route 12 at the Rhine Falls" project, has commissioned a study from the Institute for Science, Technology and Politics (ISTP) at ETH Zurich. Randomly selected persons will be interviewed in writing in three municipalities of the canton of Schaffhausen before, during and after the project. The questions revolve around the project itself and autonomous driving in general.
The results of the second survey, which took place in winter 2018/19, are now available. This allows initial conclusions to be drawn as to how the public's acceptance will change if they have the opportunity to experience automated vehicles up close and personal and if the topic is also constantly present in the media.
Results of the first survey
More than 1,400 out of 8,000 selected persons took part in the first survey. More than 60% are fascinated by the possibility of autonomous driving. The majority of tests with self-driving vehicles in the Neuhausen am Rheinfall site community and in the control communities were assessed positively (Fig. 1).
The survey has determined in detail where the concerns of the population lie. The breakdown of the answers according to various criteria provides interesting insights:
No matter how you break it down, there are always the biggest concerns about "software abuse and hacker attacks". This shows that the population is already well aware of the downsides of digitization and correctly assesses the dangers. Surprisingly, concerns about the loss of driving control and enjoyment are greater than concerns about the lack of system security and reliability.
In terms of functionality, people are most concerned about the interaction with pedestrians and cyclists and the response of autonomous vehicles in unpredictable situations. Most people are disturbed by the fact that information on position and driving behaviour is passed on to the authorities or insurance companies. However, only a few people have a problem passing on information to other vehicles or to vehicle manufacturers (for learning purposes).
Results of the second survey
For the second survey, only persons who had already taken part in the first were contacted. Of these 1142 respondents, 957 took part again. The general consent to autonomous driving is stable at a high level and has even increased slightly with regard to the consent to test drives.
There have been interesting changes in concerns about individual topics (Fig. 2): concerns have shifted in the Neuhausen am Rheinfall site community, while they have tended to decrease in the control communities.
The approval for autonomous driving itself, for experiments on the road and for the concrete project in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, is high among the population. The topic is fascinating and the opportunity to experience this technology for oneself is actively used.
The changes between the first and second surveys are smaller than expected, not only in terms of general agreement, but also in terms of concerns about the issues raised. The small shifts are significant (very small dispersion of responses) and show that the population has already gained a very differentiated picture of autonomous driving.