Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects Ian Borg and Minister for Education Justyne Caruana launched Transport Malta’s collaboration venture with the University of Malta and Malta Public Transport on a new and innovative autonomous bus research project. The initiative will provide different opportunities of research into self-driving public transport vehicles in select locations around Malta. 

Present during the launch were Malta Public Transport’s General Manager Konrad Pulè, Transport Malta’s Chairman and CEO Joseph Bugeja, and University of Malta’s Rector Prof. Alfred J. Vella.

The autonomous bus research project will be tested on the following four test routes that will be integrated with the current public transport network:

1. Between the University of Malta and Mater Dei hospital
2. A circular trip in Valletta
3. The perimeter of the Ta’ Qali Family Park
4. A route between Smart City and Esplora

Minister Ian Borg said that by introducing this new innovation to Malta, the public will be offered a novel concept of transport. “This is another showcase of a progressive government whose vision is to keep our country up to date in terms of technology as it believes in its potential to offer more sustainable transport. By adopting fully electric buses integrated with artificial intelligence we will be increasing more road safety because this technology eliminates the possibility of human error accounting for more than 90% of traffic accidents. Furthermore, fully electric bus engines will free areas such as parks, campuses or hospitals from emissions, parking issues, and noise pollution”, continued the minister.

“The University of Malta has an important role to play as a partner of the government, not only in terms of teaching, education and training, research and innovation, but also in terms of technology. We are seeing our country’s university at the forefront of seeing and exploring the opportunities which are beneficial not only for its lecturers and students, but also for the country in general, as can be seen through the launch of this project today. As a government, there is a strong commitment to strengthen the university, a commitment that will benefit today’s and tomorrow’s generations”, said Minister Justyne Caruana.

International studies on similar tests have shown a social acceptance rate higher than 75% by passengers. The three-way collaboration will monitor the autonomous bus project for different outcomes including the technical capability of the units, the experience of users, and the impact on patterns of travel.

With more than 300 units currently in use around the world, autonomous buses offer a safe, inclusive, efficient, and sustainable means of transportation in areas with a high rate of movement. The collaboration between Transport Malta, Malta Public Transport and the University of Malta will study the concept in practice with a view for implementation in the future.

An autonomous bus working group has been set up and is currently exploring specific funding opportunities for the autonomous bus project that fall within the objectives of available EU programmes.

“Our global public transport group is already running a similar programme in Madrid, and preliminary research has already been carried out by our local team with different manufacturers in order to identify suitable test routes for the autonomous bus” pointed out Konrad Pulè, General Manager at Malta Public Transport. “The Malta project will assess the technology and operations in relation to the specific local needs and conditions.”

Chairman and CEO of Transport Malta Joseph Bugeja said that, “It is a pleasure for the authority to be in partnership with the University of Malta and the Malta Public Transport on a project that is in line with the National Transport Strategy 2050 which promotes investment in intelligent transport systems to achieve environmental and social goals”.

University Rector Prof. Alfred J. Vella said that the implications of this collaboration are considerable. With Malta’s size and high population density resulting in much traffic and pollution, reaping the benefits of this revolutionary technology has, for a while now, been a question of when, not if. “The university’s engagement with the ministries present and Transport Malta as well as Malta Public Transport is an example of how cooperation between all relevant stakeholders optimises conditions for achieving results more quickly and effectively for the benefit of our entire community.”