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UK’s first electric autonomous bus service begins at Milton Park

The Business Magazine article image for: UK’s first electric autonomous bus service begins at Milton Park
3 March 2023

The UK’s first-ever fully electric autonomous bus service was launched to members of the public yesterday (Thursday) at science, technology and business community Milton Park in Oxfordshire.

The current route shuttles passengers around Milton Park from the Park’s flexible workspace, the Bee House to its Milton Feast street food market via stops on Western Avenue and Innovation Drive. Journeys further afield to Didcot Parkway train station are expected to launch later in the year.

Operated by First Bus the 15-seat, single decker minibus is fully accessible for wheelchair and pushchair users and from Friday 3 March will run every 15 minutes between 7am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday.

A qualified safety driver is on board the bus at all times, able to take control of the vehicle, if required.

The Mi-Link journey planner developed by Leamington Spa-based  Zipabout has been customised for Milton Park to provide real-time updates on the service’s operation times using everyday apps including WhatsApp, the first of its kind to do so. Each bus stop provides details of the route and a QR code to scan for live updates.

After their journey, passengers may be asked to complete a short survey online or be approached in person by one of the University of the West of England project team for their views. The aim of the research is to understand people’s experience of the new travel options and how the new technologies can benefit the wider public.

The launch of the new autonomous bus service follows the project’s successful demonstration day on Monday 23 January that took place at the Park’s flexible workspace, the Bee House, attended by local business and political leaders, occupiers, Buses Minister Richard Holden MP and the project’s consortium partners.

Veronica Reynolds, Sustainability and Community Manager at Milton Park, said: “The free autonomous bus service will enable people visiting or working at Milton Park to travel emissions-free to key destinations around the Park, reducing the need to use a car.

“It’s particularly useful for people wanting to grab a tasty lunch at the Milton Feast, available Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We’re really looking forward to hearing more from our occupiers, visitors and the wider community on their experience of using the autonomous bus, e-bikes and journey planner. Their feedback will be pivotal to shaping the next steps of cutting-edge and sustainable travel in the UK.”

John Birtwistle, Head of Policy at First Bus, said: “Today is a landmark for public transport in this country. This service brings together technologies in zero emission bus design, vehicle movement and travel planning to create a new experience.

“First Bus serves millions of customers in the UK, and we know that so many of our customers take the bus because they care about our planet and reducing their carbon footprint. We're excited to now offer them an even smarter, greener and quieter way to travel, and we cannot wait to hear some feedback on the new service.”

Cllr Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy, said: “Oxfordshire is at the forefront of the developments in autonomous vehicles and we, as a council, are proud to be a partner.

"Innovation like this has an important role to play in helping us achieve our goal of creating a net-zero transport network by 2040.”

Peter Davison is deputy editor of The Business Magazine. He has spent his life in journalism – doing work experience in newsrooms in and around Bristol while still at school, and landing his first job on a local newspaper aged 19. By 28 he was the youngest newspaper editor in the country.

An early advocate of online news, he spent the first years of the 2000s telling his bosses that the internet posed both the biggest opportunity and greatest threat to the newspaper industry and the art of journalism. He was right on both counts.

Since 2006 he has enjoyed a career as a freelance journalist. He lives in rural Wiltshire with one wife, two children, and three cats.

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