Exclusive interview with SBB project manager for self-driving vehicles.

Until today, only a handful of insiders knew that another innovation project in the field of mobility would be launched immediately after SBB Green Class and the Trip Planner app.

As a project manager at SBB, Zoltan Laszlo belongs to a group of people who are working on future-oriented projects relating to combined mobility for SBB on CEO Andreas Meyer’s Group Development team.

For over a year, Zoltan has been working at SBB for the Self-driving Vehicles strategic initiative on the implementation and development of pilot projects, among other things. As an expert in the field of autonomous mobility, he knows that the newest project means a lot to the CEO personally: “The future is very important to Mr Meyer – he thinks long term.” In an exclusive interview, Zoltan Laszlo explains the smart innovation project in detail and provides an outlook on future steps.

Dimitri Burkhard, SBB Greenclass blogger, speaks exclusively with Zoltan:

Dimitri Burkhard: Would you like to explain briefly the concept of autonomous mobility? Why is SBB investing in this area?

Zoltan: SBB is forward looking. It’s no secret that new business models are emerging as a result of automation and digitalisation – especially in the field of mobility. Car manufacturers and taxi companies, but also railway companies like SBB, are interested in making locomotion as flexible as possible in the long term. The pilot will show how self-driving cars can make the entire mobility chain user friendly and easy to organise, and how offerings of different partners can be seamlessly combined.

Switzerland is ideally suited for a pilot project with self-driving vehicles. We have numerous advantages, be it a high degree of innovation, the outstanding existing public transport network or good collaboration in the industry, such as with the SwissPass. Autonomous passenger transport tests are already being conducted worldwide, but these focus mainly on the technology’s maturity or customer feedback. We, on the other hand, want to pilot self-driving vehicles within the context of combined mobility.

What, specifically, can we expect from the self-driving buses in Zug?

Starting this summer in the city of Zug, two shuttle buses will be running that are powered 100 percent by electricity. The buses will be integrated into Zug’s existing transport network and can be used free of Charge.

For example, if your journey continues in the direction of the Technology Cluster, you can easily transfer to a self-driving shuttle bus at the station. The bus then merges autonomously into existing traffic at an average speed. Passengers’ safety is naturally our number one priority. That’s why, as in other pilot projects, there will also be a safety driver in each of the Zug buses who can step in anytime.

Finally, in future project phases, we can increase the complexity of the service: Imagine that you could order a shuttle to your front door via the app whenever you wanted… but that’s still a long way off.

In order to ensure such a seamless mobility experience, an enormous coordination effort is required. Can you tell us anything about the partners?

To get seamlessly from point A to point B indeed requires a complex orchestration of all transport users. That’s why SBB has developed this project from the very outset together with various partners.

At its core is the city of Zug, a very suitable location – not only from an urban planning perspective, but especially due to the progressive attitude of the city government. We have joined forces with the Mobility Carsharing cooperative, Zugerland Verkehrsbetriebe (ZVB) and Technology Cluster Zug. We want to forge ahead together and benefit from our mutual strengths.

Are there certain hypotheses that are being tested during this pilot project?

When it comes to new forms of mobility, in future the partners want to be pioneers – not caught off guard. In the pilot test, various possible applications of self-driving vehicles are gradually being tested: as a shuttle service integrated into the existing public transport network; as a flexible on-demand service and as a shuttle to the station; and as a future element of a Carsharing service for a defined area in the city of Zug.

The complexity of route management and services will continue to increase during the pilot project. The pilot meets the challenge of organising the entire mobility chain and advancing innovative solutions together with partners and customers.

Moreover, we want to build trust in this new technology among the public. We will also be watching with interest to see whether the various generations respond differently to this technology. Previous experiments in other cities have shown that a positive “aha” experience leads to the swift adaptation of the technology – the age of the passengers is only secondary.
The involved partners have a positive assessment, otherwise SBB would hardly pursue this project. But in the end, our focus is on the customer. Recognising their needs and meeting them as best as possible is our top priority.

Thank you for the fascinating insight into the future of autonomous mobility!


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