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DB and RMV announce innovation in public transportation: Autonomous shuttles starting in 2023!

DB and RMV announce innovation in public transportation: Autonomous shuttles starting in 2023!
photo: Archive/DB and RMV announce innovation in public transportation: Autonomous shuttles starting in 2023!
22 / 06 / 2022

More and more flexible on-demand shuttles are supplementing classic scheduled services in Germany. In the Rhine-Main region, Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV) and Deutsche Bahn (DB), together with local partners, have been implementing Germany's largest on-demand service since 2021. In 2023, the first autonomous on-demand vehicles are scheduled to hit the roads in the RMV region and significantly strengthen the public transport service in the area.

"The industry has had an extensive and good experience for many decades with so-called line-demand services such as call buses, etc. For several years now, more and more new on-demand services have been added to public transport, also thanks to digitization and the improved legal framework for these services," says Ingo Wortmann, President of the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV).

At the beginning of 2019, there were still about a dozen such new offerings. By the end of this year, there are already four times as many, with over 80 projects, and the trend is rising. This development impressively shows that the industry is implementing the political mandate from the amendment of the Passenger Transportation Act: Transport companies and associations are in the process of offering new scheduled services throughout Germany and expanding existing services. There are currently more than 400 vehicles on the road in this area. A recent industry survey by the VDV also shows that on-demand services in public transport are becoming established everywhere, even outside the major cities and metropolitan areas: according to the survey, 47 per cent of all on-demand transport is on the road in rural areas and small towns, 26 per cent in medium-sized and major centres, 14 per cent in suburban areas and 13 per cent in urban areas. "For rural projects, this means there are flexible services where there weren't any before. In addition, it is becoming apparent that underutilized scheduled services there are more likely to be converted to on-demand services with several smaller vehicles. This effectively reduces empty runs and instead serves the mobility needs of our passengers flexibly and with a high level of comfort," says Wortmann.

In 85 per cent of the cases, the approved scheduled on-demand services are completely new services that supplement the existing public transport services; in around 15 per cent, the existing city and call bus services have been digitally expanded and the service areas extended. In terms of fares, the new services are almost always fully integrated into the public transport service and fare structures. For 40 per cent of the on-demand offers, the simple network ticket or the subscription is sufficient for use; for 24 per cent of the offers, an additional convenience surcharge (usually one euro) is due, and for 26 per cent, the fare is handled separately via digital eTariffs.

RMV: On-demand pioneer soon to offer autonomous vehicles as well

The Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV) is the first transport association to host the VDV Annual Conference - and with it a pioneer in on-demand and autonomous driving. VDV Vice President and RMV Managing Director Prof. Knut Ringat: "In the RMV, we have the largest on-demand mobility network in Germany with nine partners under the umbrella of the association. We form the bracket over the entire project with uniform tariff frameworks and conditions of carriage. Vehicle procurement is also bundled through the network. Above all, the shuttles can be booked via the central RMV on-demand app. This is passenger-friendly and efficient," says Prof. Ringat. "On-demand transports are highly attractive for passengers and thus offer great potential for the mobility turnaround. On a large scale, however, they are only economically feasible in autonomous operation. That's why we want to test autonomous vehicles in regular operation in two regions for the first time next year."

The plan is for the first vehicles in autonomous Level 4 to drive through Darmstadt and the Offenbach district throughout Germany. The role model function for the nationwide introduction of on-demand services through the RMV projects is also so great because the metropolis of Frankfurt, counties on the outskirts of the metropolis and rural counties are represented in the project, i.e., the complete diversity of Germany's settlement structures.

RMV and Deutsche Bahn realize the first autonomous on-demand fleet

Together, RMV and DB want to realize the world's first autonomous shuttle fleet, which is to be fully integrated into regular public transport operations. DB technology company ioki is to supply the on-demand software and CleverShuttle, together with local partners Heag mobilo and kvgOF, is to implement the on-site operation. Dr Jörg Sandvoß, Chairman of the Management Board at DB Regio: "Autonomous on-demand driving is an important step towards better local public transport services and thus more climate-friendly mobility for everyone in Germany. Together with RMV, we want to put the world's first autonomous on-demand fleet on the road in regular public transport operations as early as next year. Because only with driverless shuttles travelling at normal speeds will we create a public transport system that people can board anywhere and at any time."

Flexible on-demand services are an important lever for more and more demand-oriented public transport, in addition to traditionally scheduled services. They close the gap between the station and the doorstep - especially on the outskirts of cities and in rural regions. Together, the DB subsidiaries DB Regio Bus, ioki and CleverShuttle are already implementing on-demand services throughout Germany. Within the last three years, DB has expanded its existing scheduled bus services nationwide with around 330 on-demand services and has already transported seven million passengers. Johann Jungwirth, Vice President MaaS, Mobileye: "The future of mobility with self-driving vehicles contributes to greater safety, sustainability and customer satisfaction in road traffic. We are pleased to partner with Deutsche Bahn and RMV to demonstrate the benefits of vehicles equipped with our self-driving system in shuttle services for ride-pooling."

Climate protection targets: On-demand regular service costs 3.8 billion euros

The VDV industry survey shows that fleet sizes and service area sizes in urban areas, mid-sized centres and rural areas are tailored to local conditions and vary widely. The industry is aware that the challenges to the nationwide operation of such services are enormous. For example, on-demand services are a lever for making public transport more attractive to more people overall and thus for achieving the climate protection targets by 2030. But without additional financial resources, they cannot be operated economically in the coming years: "The expansion of on-demand services can contribute to creating equal living conditions in urban and rural areas and to achieving the climate protection targets in the transport sector. However, the public transport performance cost report by Roland Berger commissioned by the VDV has also clearly shown that the financial requirements for the associated expansion of services are high: by 2030, we would need around an additional EUR 3.8 billion to enable on-demand transport services to operate in regular service throughout Germany. The legal framework offers clear prerequisites in the form of the PBefG and is being successfully implemented by the industry. What is still missing are the financial prerequisites to be able to operate the new services sustainably," concludes VDV Managing Director Oliver Wolff.

Roland Berger's public transport service cost report can be found here (on-demand coverage gap on page 33f.).

The VDV industry survey On-Demand 2022 is linked here.

Information and registration options for the VDV Annual Conference 2022 in Frankurt a.M. can be found via the VDV VerbandsApp.

About DB Regio

  • With around 1.6 billion passengers in 2020, DB Regio is the largest provider of local rail passenger transport. Per day, an average of 4.4 million people were on the move on around 21,000 train journeys. The five metropolitan S-Bahns Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Hamburg take around 1.3 billion people to their destinations each year. More than 37,000 employees work for the passengers every day. DB Regio understands local transport across all modes of transport and complements its core rail and bus services with new forms of mobility such as on-demand, sharing and pooling services both in metropolitan regions and in rural areas. The aim is climate-friendly, modern and seamless public transport for everyone in Germany.

About Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund

  • The Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV) is one of Germany's largest public transport associations. It coordinates and organizes regional bus and rail transport over an area of around 14,000 square kilometres. That is about two-thirds of the area of the German state of Hesse. Around 5 million people live in the area covered by the association, and if you include the inhabitants of the transitional tariff areas, the figure is as high as 6.7 million. The network was launched in 1995 and since then has made a significant contribution to the development of the Rhine-Main region as a vibrant metropolitan area.


Source: Deutsche Bahn Press releases