Driverless bus takes passengers along Beach St

by Kim Bowden and Lauren Pattemore - Feb 08, 2023

There's a bus transporting passengers up and down Queenstown's Beach Street this week and no one's behind the wheel.

Auckland-born company Ohmio has delivered one of its autonomous, fully-electric minibuses to town.

A unique delivery for Queenstown - a driverless bus (Image: Facebook).

Company chief executive Dean Zabrieszach says the vehicle will be on Beach Street today and tomorrow, and members of the public are welcome to jump aboard.

There's seats for 13 passengers.

He's showcasing his company's technology as part of the Global AV Forum, which kicked off at the QT hotel this morning and runs for two days.

For an hour from 1.30pm today seats on the bus will be reserved for some VIP passengers from the forum.

Among them, Southland MP Joseph Mooney.

He says "multimodal transport" - more connections and more choices - will be needed moving forward.

"We've got these challenges around not enough bus drivers, trying to decarbonise transport, and this could be quite an exciting part of it, potentially."

The forum's focused on innovations in driverless passenger transport, and Ohmio is one of the organisers.

The Beach Street bus has been designed and engineered in Auckland, with some parts manufactured offshore.

Mr Zabrieszach says the technology is there and "good to go". The next step is to work with local authorities and communities to normalise their use.

A driverless vehicle can feel confronting for some, and he says the best way to overcome any reluctance is to see them in action.

During a recent trial in Melbourne, people's concerns about the buses significantly decreased after jumping aboard one themselves, he says.

The buses were also trialled in Christchurch, in 2019.

Mr Zabrieszach says his buses work as one piece of a bigger public transport puzzle, filling a "first-mile, last-mile gap" - getting users to and from bus stops, ferry terminals, train stations or park-and-ride hubs.

Ohmio already has vehicles deployed in Australia, China and South Korea and this year it plans to have two vehicles in Luxembourg, connecting with the city's rail network, and at New York's JFK Airport to ferry flyers from a to b.

There's also a futuristic plan for vehicle deployments in a huge new Auckland subdivision too. Ohmio is working with the developer of Paerata Rise to offer residents on-demand transport, via a smart phone app, to deliver them to park and ride spaces and a planned train station.

Dr Young-Jun Moon of the Korean Transport Institute is in town for the forum.

He says Ohmio's buses are used in Segong City and in the three years they've been on the streets they've been accident-free.

"It saves our roads from congestion," he says.

As for Queenstown, it's unclear exactly what red tape needs to be cut through to allow a two-day trial of a completely noiseless, driverless vehicle on a busy central street.

A spokesperson for the Queenstown Lakes District Council says Ohmio submitted a Traffic Management Plan to the council to run the bus for today and tomorrow, and it was approved. 

Main image (Facebook): The future is here - for two days, anyway. A driverless minibus is taking passengers on Beach Street.


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