Driverless bus trials attract curious passengers

Ms Satoko Nemoto, a 43-year-old Japanese housewife who has been in Singapore for three months, travelled by MRT all the way from her home in Pasir Ris to Haw Par Villa just to ride on the driverless bus operated by SMRT.

She said the ride was quiet and smooth, and she especially liked that the bus was fully electric and thus eco-friendly.

She was among a total of 320 people to have taken the driverless buses at Haw Par Villa and on Jurong Island since they were launched in January, with some specially making the trip to the two areas for the ride.

Most found it a pleasant enough experience, saying the buses were not as slow as they expected and the presence of a driver at the wheel in case of emergencies reassured them.

There remain concerns, however, over safety issues.

On Jan 25, ST Engineering, with SMRT and SBS Transit, launched Singapore's first trials requiring people to pay fares for these rides on two routes.

The Haw Par Villa route is about 40 cents for a round trip while the fare for the Jurong Island route is $2.

The rides, which operate only on weekdays, have to be booked and paid for on an app.

With the aim of gaining data that could eventually see these buses rolled out across Singapore commercially, the trials, which will last until April 30, are set to give Singapore's current edge in the industry a further boost.

Industry watchers have said the technology is still at least five to 10 years from being rolled out more broadly.

Engineer Wee Ming Xiao, who found the bus trip smooth, raised the possibility of the system's vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

He believes the buses have gone through rigorous testing and appropriate safety measures have been put in place, but said he wants concerns over hacking addressed.

Others suggested an emergency button to deal with unforeseen circumstances.