Self-driving bus is first stop to a smarter and more sustainable city

Kristiansand in Norway is proving itself a well suited testing ground for self-driving vehicles. The first autonomous bus has rolled through the streets and by 2041, the vision is that all vehicles will be driverless. COWI has delivered a range of the selected ideas for the future city.


Self-driving vehicles, a car-free town centre and one of the country’s biggest campus health clusters based on advanced healthcare technology.  

Those are among the future city visions that COWI has delivered to the municipality of Kristiansand in Norway.

The visions are now part of the city’s 25-year urban development plan, and this month, one idea became reality when a self-driving bus from Acando rolled through the streets of Kristiansand for the first time.

Ideal testing ground

Among other benefits, the self-driving cars will meet the mobility needs of the municipality’s future aging population and help older people to make active use of the city’s assets for longer, explains Tom Erik Carstensen, manager of COWI in Kristiansand.

He believes that the size and layout of Kristiansand makes it well suited as a testing ground for self-driving cars and buses.

”For smaller places, the underlying market would be too small, while the complexity of larger cities would be a challenge,” he explains.

Furthermore, Kristiansand has a technology-based university and industry such as mechatronics at the University of Agder (UiA), which can help to develop smart solutions for people living in the city.

“In short, Kristiansand can play a leading role within the smart city area - not only in Norway but in Europe as a whole. The city is well suited to reach a high percentage of self-driving cars and buses within a relatively short time. However, this opportunity has to be grasped quickly, but also wisely,” says Tom Erik Carstensen.

Competitor to public transport?

When not in use, the self-driving cars will be parked in areas outside the centre, and this can free up a lot of space in the inner city and give more space to cyclists and pedestrians, playgrounds, café life and other outdoor facilities.

However, the technology cannot solve all future transport and planning problems in Kristiansand by itself, Eline Fredriksen, civic planner at COWI, points out:

“Worst case, self-driving cars could entice more people away from today’s public transport provision to the driverless model and create more traffic and congestion. So it is important for self-driving cars and buses to be an extension of – and enabler for – public transport, rather than a competitor,” she says.

The vision is that the driverless buses will be equipped with substantial computer power to optimise urban routes and increase flexibility and the proportion of journeys made by public transport, while trips to the country will be made in vehicles from a car-sharing service with a common car-pool that users subscribe to.

“The self-driving minibus running around Kristiansand is the start of a smarter and more sustainable city. In the future we aim to build green mobility systems where the mobile phone is our chief means of transport,” says Eline Fredriksen.

Urbanisation, an aging population and implications of climate change are some of the major challenges facing Kristiansand in Norway. In January 2017, the municipality asked COWI to contribute to the visions for the future city and COWI presented a range of ideas at a town hall meeting in Kristiansand in February.

Shared transport, self-driving cars, car free town-centre and a health cluster with a strong digital infrastructure are among the key features in the 2041 lay out for Kristiansand.


Read more (in Norwegian) here.

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COWI employee Søren Kragh Pedersen

Søren Kragh Pedersen
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