Mi-Link – trialling innovative technology for bus services

The Mi-Link bus services operating around Didcot in Oxfordshire represent the first use of electric autonomous buses to carry passengers in the UK. Following the success of Phase 1 providing a bus service within Milton Park business, science and technology park throughout March 2023, from 12 June service 002 has linked Milton Park with Didcot Parkway station.  Although operation of service 002 will cease on 28 July, the third phase of operation will commence in August with route 003 also linking Milton Park with Didcot Parkway station.

The buses are 100% electric and emissions free. The service is available for anyone to use and it’s free. It is fully accessible to users of wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

An autonomous vehicle can drive itself without human intervention. Some modern cars have driver assistance features such as automatic lane keeping on motorways, or self-parking. Full autonomy extends this to the entire driving task, and that is what we have done with the Mi-Link buses. All steering, acceleration and braking is done automatically, and the vehicle will respond to other traffic and road conditions and external events.

Is this safe?
Yes.  Before starting operation, the project team has had to complete a rigorous safety assessment which has been independently reviewed. The vehicles we are using are standard electric buses, adapted to operate autonomously with the modifications fully tested and approved for use on UK roads. The service is operated by First Bus, a fully licensed operator of bus and coach services throughout the UK and beyond.

You can check the online timetable and wait for the bus at one of the specified stops. Each stop provides details of the route and a QR code to scan for live, real-time updates for your journey using Messenger or WhatsApp. No fares are charged on the service. Take a seat (no standing is permitted), fasten your seat belt and we’re off!  When you want to get off, just press the bell like you would on any other bus, and it will stop automatically at the next bus stop on the route.

There is always a “safety driver” on board – in case a cow jumps in front of the bus, the Milton Park goslings decide to cross the road, or a sink hole appears in the road – to take evasive action. The safety driver is always a fully qualified and experienced bus driver. We also have all the necessary legal consents and the emergency services have been briefed on our operations.

What can we gain from autonomy?
The UK is at the forefront of autonomous technology and wishes to remain in that position. We are exploring the potential for the application of this technology to real world situations. Local bus services provide an equalitarian transport solution for everyone, irrespective of income, car ownership, ability to drive or personal mobility. However, running any type of vehicle is not cheap and this is equally true of buses. If we can find a way of reducing that operating cost, we will in future be able to extend the range of public transport to places where it is currently simply uneconomic and unaffordable to provide – either by commercial bus companies or funded by local authorities. But we have to learn about applying the technology first, from experience – of passengers, stakeholders, other road users, and observers.

How green is my journey?
The buses are fully electric vehicles powered by batteries which are recharged overnight.  The vehicles’ propulsion system produces no carbon and no airborne emission of oxides of nitrogen or sulphur. As part of the MultiCAV project, a fleet of Mi-Link electric bicycles is also available to hire from Didcot Parkway Station and other handy locations nearby.

The project has been part funded by the UK Department for Transport’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, otherwise known as CCAV.  All other funding has been provided by the commercial project partners.   None of this comes from local council tax, business rates or other local council expenditure.

Come and try it for yourself!


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