The journey from the driverless bus to its big brother

Alma Haanstra used to work as a retail manager in Schlössli Wörth, high above the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen, where she sold souvenirs to tourists. That experience of working with tourists made her an ideal candidate for working as a bus attendant on the driverless shuttle bus, Route 12. The job was her introduction to the world of transport. She still works for local transport operator, Verkehrsbetriebe Schaffhausen (VBSH), but she’s switched from her role as attendant on the driverless shuttle bus on Route 12 to a place behind the wheel of its big brothers in the local bus fleet which is not yet operating driverless services.

«I have always been fascinated by new technologies. Imagine you get into a car, you select your destination, and you relax or sleep all the way to your journey’s end. How cool would that be?», Alma Haanstra says with a smile during her break at the railway station. That’s why she reacted immediately and applied for the job as attendant on the driverless bus designed by the Swiss Transit Lab in Neuhausen am Rheinfall. Two weeks later she was getting to grips with the revolutionary vehicle, the first in the world to operate as a scheduled bus service. «I was a fan of the project right from the start. It was great to have the opportunity to master the challenges this new technology presents and also to add my own suggestions.» When you listen to Alma, you can see how enthusiastic she is about the driverless bus. She laughs as she explains: «A remarkable number of people got on the bus and got to the final stop at Industrieplatz in Neuhausen am Rheinfall without noticing that there was no steering wheel, no brake or accelerator pedal and no driver on board.»

Alma had always been interested in public transport and one day was approached by the Team Leader responsible for the attendants on the driverless bus and suggested she might want to become a bus driver. Alma Haanstra decided to sleep on it and then did a trial run. «It just felt right.» she says and thus began her new career behind the wheel of a bus. She took her first driving lessons in early August, breezed through all the tests and has been at the wheel ferrying passengers around Schaffhausen since 1st November. «The roles as attendant on the self-driving shuttle and Bus driver on a normal service actually don’t have that much in common, other than that I am there to get passengers safely from A to B.». There is much more responsibility in the new role, as she now navigates a bus full of passengers through the streets, rather than a maximum of 11 passengers, the capacity of the driverless shuttle bus. «I used to get annoyed when buses were late. Now I know better. There are so many factors influencing whether you arrive at a stop on time – the volume of traffic, the number of passengers, obstructions along the route and whether you find a lorry blocking your route – and generally, that’s all impossible to predict.»

Overall, she loves her new job as a bus driver. «Sometimes I miss having more in-depth contact with customers. Passengers on the driverless bus are always curious about what the little vehicle can door. By contrast, nobody’s interested in the technology behind the larger buses.» Being one of the first attendants on the driverless bus was clearly great fun . «I loved the driverless Route 12 and whenever I’m driving my normal bus on Route 6 in Neuhausen am Rheinfall and pass the driverless shuttle, I think back to my time there with great fondness.» Switching to the role of bus driver had come at the right time for her, however. «Local transport operator, Verkehrsbetriebe Schaffhausen (VBSH), is a great employer which plans for the long-term and turns its visions into reality.» Alma isn’t concerned that her job as a Bus Driver will disappear thanks to driverless buses. «Sure, public transport is going to undergo great changes in future – like so many other things – but there’ll always be work to be done, we’ll simply be doing it differently.», she says, opens the door of her bus, gets behind the wheel and heads off along Route 6 towards Neuhausen am Rheinfall.

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