The main disadvantage of public transport is that it requires drivers, and the driver is not only the most expensive but also the most dangerous part of the equation. "Computers are cheaper, they never get tired and they are much better drivers," says Jan van Dijke of the Dutch research institute TNO Automotive. "Nine out of ten traffic incidents are the result of human error."
Van Dijke is in charge of the European Citymobil project, which studies the advantages of driverless public transport, among other things. One current experiment is in Rotterdam, where for the past few weeks a driverless bus has been shuttling passengers from the Kralingse Zoom metro station to the Rivium industrial zone. The shuttle is a miracle of efficiency and punctuality. It follows a magnetic strip embedded in a concrete roadway. The shuttle started running four years ago but the project was halted after a frontal crash, which the technicians assure was due to human error.
Driverless public transport is on the rise in many other places. Amsterdam plans to do away with metro operators from 2014.