In April 2017, a local bus line opened in Bad Birnbach, Bavaria – operated by a battery-electric autonomous minibus of the type “EasyMile EZ 10”, built by Easymile – a French Toulouse-based company. The vehicle has been proven in numerous tests and practical applications worldwide. For example, in the Netherlands the EZ 10 was already operating with passengers on public roads when this was still a no-go in nearby in Germany.
Maximum speed is still legally limited to 15 km/h, but an increase to 25km/h is likely to come soon – even if there is no date for it yet. The EZ10 can already run at a maximum of 40 km/h today. And because the operation of an autonomous bus is still considered to be an experimental operation, there must also be a companion on board who can intervene and control the vehicle if necessary.
The initial route of the autonomous minibus ran only within the Bad Birnbach town centre. The station, which is two kilometres away, could not be reached because the autonomous bus had to cross a busy country road – a risk which was so far not accepted by the local authorities.
Extension to the railway stop
But now things changed: On Monday, 7 October 2019, Germany’s Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer and Bertold Huber, DB Board Member for Passenger Transport, opened the extension of the line to the railway station. The crossing of the highway is ensured by an innovative traffic control system: cameras installed at the junction recognize the vehicle and all other traffic has to reduce its speed to 30 km/h.
The local bus Bad Birnbach is operated by the DB subsidiary “Regional-Bus Ostbayern” (RBO). Originally, a single car was in use, now there are two of them. The line runs daily between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Since 2017, some 40,000 passengers have been transported by the autonomous bus, and more than 21,000 kilometers have been driven autonomously.
The two autonomous buses used today in Bad Birnbach come from the French manufacturer EasyMile and are of the type “EZ 10 Gen 2” (= generation 2). It can carry up to 10 seated passengers, and there are four standing places. There is also a wheelchair ramp. Both Wi-Fi and USB charging ports are offered to the public. The Easymile is powered by an 8 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery (LiFePO 4).
A nice to see marketing video of DB’s autonomous bus operation and safety features can be found here:11.10.2019