According to The Asahi Shimbun, an autonomous shuttle bus will hit the roads here as early as April, making Sakai the first municipality to do so, according to a company that will jointly operate the service.
SB Drive Corp., a subsidiary of Softbank Corp., and the town government made the announcement on Jan. 27. SB Drive aims to expand the free service, which will be provided on a regular basis, in rural areas facing an aging and declining population.
Each of the French-made, self-driving vehicles can carry up to nine passengers. An additional bus will be added around summer.
They will make four round trips a day on a 5-kilometer route connecting a hospital, bank, elementary school and other sites.
SB Drive will provide software and other services necessary for the autonomous buses to operate. The location of the buses will be tracked using GPS, with obstacles detected using sensors.
While the vehicles will be unmanned, in principle, two staff members, including a driver, will be on board to manually operate the bus and handle the door if necessary.
The town, located in the western part of the prefecture, has no railway station and bus companies are facing a shortage of drivers.
"We want to resolve transportation-related problems in communities using information technology," said SB Drive President Yuki Saji.
The town will spend a total of about 500 million yen (US$ 4.59 million) on the initiative over a five-year period.
“I want to make Sakai a town where every resident has access to transportation,” said Mayor Masahiro Hashimoto.
If you want to read this article in Japanese, please see the following link:
Subscribe to our English Newsletter