Montreal

Self-driving buses hit Montreal streets for first time as part of pilot project

There is a bus tooling around Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve these days that looks a little different from the rest. It's tiny, red and it runs without a driver.

The rides are free and carry passengers between the Olympic Stadium and Maisonneuve Market

The self-driving buses are part of a Montreal pilot project to test autonomous vehicles on city streets. (Franca Mignacca/CBC )

There is a bus tooling around Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve these days that looks a little different from the rest. It's tiny, red and it runs without a driver.

The self-driving shuttle buses are part of a pilot project in Montreal, transporting people from the Olympic Stadium to the Maisonneuve Market.

"I trust that vehicle more than a person who's texting on their phone," said Kristin Buchholz, project manager at EasyMile, the company that manufactures the self-driving buses. "I know that vehicle is going to stop for me."

The bus is equipped with sensors and a navigational system, and runs at a maximum speed of 15 km/h.

The doors open by themselves at every planned stop, and bells sound automatically whenever it drives through an intersection, warning others of its presence.

The buses takes passengers between the Olympic Stadium and the Maisonneuve Market. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

This is the first time a self-driving vehicle has been authorized to use public roads in Montreal. Part of the pilot project will examine how the bus shares city streets with other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The project builds on last year's experiment with the same bus, which drove people around the grounds of the Olympic Stadium.

But with the technology still in its infancy, it was decided to have an operator on board at all times.

See the bus in action below.

This little shuttle drives itself — but a supervisor is on board in case anything goes wrong. 0:34

While the bus is able to avoid most obstacles, it doesn't know how to restart itself if it makes an emergency stop, said Olivier Meunier, one of the bus operators.

The bus also has difficulty navigating around parked cars. At times like these, Meunier takes control through a small control panel, no larger than a handheld gaming console, which is strapped around his neck.

Transdev bus operator Olivier Meunier says there are some obstacles he has to drive around manually. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

Each bus has six seats, and space enough for 12 passengers, though there isn't much elbow room when full. The rides are free, and there are seven stops on the route.

The pilot project runs until August 4.

About the Author

Franca G. Mignacca is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from Radio-Canada

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