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Look ma, no driver - meet the new high-tech buses set for Gold Coast

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Driverless buses will soon be trundling to The Spit on the Gold Coast, with Mayor Tom Tate calling the autonomous transport safe as houses.

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City of Gold Coast on Tuesday gave the green light to the buses, similar to those in operation at Queensland’s first trial of the technology at Karragarra Island at Redlands.

While there is no driver, an operator remains on board at all times.

“Safety-wise, even if it’s a butterfly flies close to the sensor, the bus will stop, so I’m quite satisfied there,” Tate said “But we’ve got to think way beyond … we’ll be able to expand small networks to various communities.”

The buses are initially expected to travel from Main Beach to The Spit, leaving every seven minutes, with stops at Sea World and the hop-on-hop-off HOPO ferry service near the theme park.
Tate said the buses would increase accessibility to The Spit from Main Beach and provide a public transport option so people didn’t have to walk.

He said he visited Redlands late last year to ride the driverless buses. Safety remained the primary consideration before committing to the trial on the Gold Coast, he said.

The RACQ last year partnered with Redland City Council to trial the “smart shuttle” fully automated bus at Karragarra Island. Redlands then moved to a second phase in a more complex live-traffic environment where the buses ran along a 1.9-kilometre loop connecting the Raby Bay Harbour precinct to Raby Bay Foreshore Park.

Around 1350 passengers rode the driverless bus for free at Redlands, with the EasyMile vehicle travelling more than 3,000 kilometres between November last year and the end of June this year.

A number of autonomous buses are being trialled around the country after Australia’s first driverless shuttle bus was introduced along the foreshore in South Perth in 2016.

In a move that takes the technology to the next level, the nation’s first trial of an electric-powered, fully autonomous ‘Busbot’ is about to get underway in Coffs Harbour in northern NSW. In this trial there will be no driver and no operator on board, just remote monitoring of the vehicle.

After trialling the buses at Coffs Harbour with only an operator on board since 2018, the new phase is the first time an automated passenger bus will have reached the fully driverless testing milestone.

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