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The ‘See-Meile’ project: your questions, our answers

What was the project timeline?

Before public services started, we carried out test runs without passengers. In the process, the routes were scanned by the vehicles' operating systems and attendants prepared for the route. Passenger services began in summer 2021, and interested parties were able to use the vehicles daily free of charge until the end of June 2022.

1st January 2020 Start of project
7th October 2020 Registration of the vehicles
28th December 2020 Start of operational trips without passengers
29th June 2021 Start of passenger operation
September 2021 Integration of the lines into the Fahrinfo app & installation of the displays.
4th October 2021 First extension of line 328B by two stops 
2nd May 2022 Second extension of line 328B to Tegel S-Bahn station
11th May 2022 Lifting of the passenger restriction
20th June 2022 End of project 

Which vehicles were used?
For the project three EasyMile EZ 10 Gen3 vehicles were used. These vehicles are highly automated shuttles. They cannot yet deal autonomously with all traffic situations (avoiding obstacles, overtaking) and run along a ‘learned’ (i.e. programmed) route. This route can only be deviated from in manual mode, i.e. by the attendant. During the course of the project, the vehicles ran at a maximum speed of 15 km/h. They could seat six persons and were wheelchair-accessible (automatic ramps and wheelchair restraining devices). A buggy could also be brought on board. There were no steps in the vehicle interior, which also features air-conditioning and heating. An attendant was on board of every shuttle at all times to ensure smooth running of the service, assist passengers with reduced mobility, and take over control if necessary. Stop announcements were made in the vehicles and both the route and its stops were shown on screens. The shuttles were also equipped with an ‘acoustic vehicle alerting system’ (AVAS), which is a warning system for low-noise, electric vehicles. It generates an artificial noise to draw road users’ attention to the vehicle.

Who was the operator of the shuttles?
The shuttles and the two circular routes were operated by the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG).

How was safety ensured?
The vehicles were equipped with several lidar sensors and brought to a stop if they detected obstacles within a set range. The vehicles also employed a defensive driving style and reacted extremely cautiously, braking in all potentially dangerous situations. The on-board attendants further monitored the vehicle and, when necessary, assisted passengers getting on and off. All passengers must sit while the shuttle was moving. Only the attendants could stand. The vehicle doors had an auto-reverse mechanism to prevent persons or objects from getting caught. If the doors were obstructed, the vehicle could not close them nor continue the journey.

What happened to the service/the shuttles at the end of the project?
At the end of the passenger service, the project partners will continue evaluating the results of the research project. Whether the shuttles or the service in Tegel remain operational depends on this evaluation. All of the partners are, in principle, interested in offering services of this type in the longer term.

Did the vehicles respond to traffic signs?
Not yet, but the technology is constantly evolving. The exact routes, the traffic rules on the routes, and the correct responses to different traffic situations were programmed into the vehicles.

Were operations dependent on the weather?
Understanding precisely how the technology reacts to different weather conditions was a key part of the trial. Over the project period, the buses therefore operated in all conditions.

Could the vehicles depart from their route?
The routes were programmed in the vehicle’s computer before it entered service; the vehicles therefore could not deviate from their routes. The programming told the vehicles how to navigate their set routes. When they detected an obstacle, the vehicles automatically stopped. During the project time frame, the vehicles were not able to deviate significantly from the route to bypass obstacles; in such cases, the attendant had to take over control of the vehicle.

Can shuttles like this operate anywhere?
Operations are possible where the local conditions meet the requirements of the road traffic authorities for the use of such vehicles and an exemption is granted. However, during this project's time frame, use on public roads was only possible if an attendant can take over control of the vehicle at any time.

Do the project partners have prior experience in operating highly automated shuttles?
The BVG operated four highly automated shuttles at the Charité hospital in Mitte and the Virchow-Klinikum as part of the STIMULATE project between 2018 and 2021. From August 2020 to April 2021, services with two highly automated EasyMile shuttles continued at the Virchow-Klinikum site, while operations at the Campus Mitte site were ended. The BVG also operated the ‘See-Meile’ in Alt-Tegel with an EasyMile vehicle from 2019 to 2020.

Why is the BVG trialling highly automated shuttles?
The BVG is using highly automated shuttles on various projects to test the technology and accelerate its further development. It also wants to introduce the residents of Berlin to this new way of transportation. The aim for the future is to use highly automated shuttles throughout the city to solve the first/last mile problem and to integrate neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Berlin into the public transportation network. It will provide Berliners with improved connections to the existing public transport system.

How was the public involved?
As part of an acceptance study, the Technical University of Berlin (TU) conducted a passenger survey (in and outside the vehicles). During the testing of the highly automated shuttles, various user groups and their specific expectations of the technology were taken into consideration. In addition to questions relating to ease of use, the study analysed take-up of the highly automated shuttle service by users, residents, and other stakeholders. The State of Berlin was also interested in meeting demand for high-quality public participation and was, for example, engaging with citizens in the form of a public consultation that aims to result in recommendations for action on this central political and technical issue for the future. The general public was involved through information and discussion forums. With regard to operating fleets of this type in other scenarios, accompanying project workshops were devoted to the question of optimising the system in the State of Berlin and how it can be scaled up or down for other areas.