Aurélien Fleurot 07h28, September 19, 2023

For the first time, RATP is testing an autonomous bus with passengers on board. On line 393, which connects Sucy-Bonneuil RER station and Basse-Quinte station, the vehicle drives alone. An on-board operator is present to regain control nevertheless. On the passenger side, apprehension quickly gives way to curiosity.

It is a somewhat surprising experiment that is conducted in the Val-de-Marne. On line 393 of the RATP, the Sucy-Bonneuil RER station and the Basse-Quinte station in Créteil, a strange bus is currently in the test phase. 100% electric, the latter has the particularity of not having a driver.

For the first time, RATP is testing with passengers on board a bus nearly 12 meters long, fully autonomous. Equipped with radars and cameras, the vehicle will be able to carry up to 17 passengers, all seated and having fastened their seatbelts. Passengers on line 393 are greeted by a RATP agent who explains how the autonomous bus works. Sometimes a little surprised, they are all very interested and dialogue with the driver. Or rather the "safety driver", an operator who sits behind the wheel, in case of problems.

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This final phase of experimentation comes after numerous tests deemed conclusive by the RATP, which first took advantage of the night, without passengers, then during the day, always without a passenger. But now, it's time for the public. Paul is a regular on the line, he regularly borrows it to see his parents. First impression, it does not go as fast as usual: "It's a little slow, we noticed it with the other travelers, me, I do not work today, but there is a person who had to take the metro to go to work, he did not get it!", he explains to the microphone of Europe 1. On this section authorized for autonomous driving, with many bus lanes, the speed is programmed not to exceed 30 km/h and the journey takes five minutes longer than with a "conventional" bus.

The autonomous bus runs for 6 km. Photo credit: Aurélien Fleurot

The steering wheel that moves by itself, guaranteed effect

A few seats away, Oussama, 22, headphones in his ears, quickly removed to listen to the explanations. First reflex for this student: film the screen located towards the front of the bus and which allows to see the steering wheel move by itself. The young man is seduced: "It's automatic, we see the journey, we can see that the driver does not touch the steering wheel, it's excellent. In addition, it is ecological. We need more buses like that, usually they are crowded. I love it and I feel comfortable." Once past the surprise of having to sit down and fasten their seatbelts, passengers ask questions but do not seem worried about this bus whose steering wheel is autonomous. The "centimeter" GPS allows precision in the movements of the bus, which perfectly follows its route.

And soon without an operator on board?

Yann François has been working at RATP for more than 20 years, this machinist was one of the many volunteers for this experiment. With the help of a screen with 3D modeling, he appreciates the anticipation capacity of his bus equipped with radars and cameras: "When you arrive at the market in Choisy-le-Roi on weekends, there are people everywhere, you have to idle. There the bus sees everywhere at the same time. And I can regain control very quickly: by pressing an emergency button, by taking the steering wheel firmly or of course by pressing the brake." He only needed one day of training to become a safety driver. The experiment on line 393 could be extended until the end of the year. Another has also just started, this time in Paris: the "inter-station shuttle" will circulate in a very urban environment, linking the Gare de Lyon, the Pôle de Bercy and the Gare d'Austerlitz. And the next step on which RATP is working, including the French manufacturer Milla, will be this time without an operator on board!