By: Fabian Cotter, Photography by: courtesy Keolis Downer

ADHERING to coronavirus-mitigating measures and social distancing ideals, a Keolis Downer weekday driverless-vehicle passenger-carrying trial is underway in Newcastle, NSW, the company announced recently.

Customers will be required to register prior to riding the shuttle and will be provided with a dedicated seat on board, Keolis confirms.

Newcastle’s new trial mobility option from 8 July, 2020, operates along Wharf Road between the Watt Street and Nobbys Beach roundabouts on weekdays between 10.00am and 2.00pm, confirms Keolis Downer, with the service providing: "…a useful connection for locals to go to points of interest and connect to the public transport network."

The trial is being funded through an AUD$5 million grant won by the City of Newcastle via the federal government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Programme.

Keolis Downer CEO David Franks encouraged ‘Novocastrians’ and visitors to take part in the trial over the coming months.

"It is very exciting to see the shuttle operating on road alongside other traffic and we are delighted to partner with the City of Newcastle to gather more insights on this technology. We encourage everyone to take a ride and share their feedback," Franks said.

"When the shuttle was out in November last year during the Newcastle 500, we received over 100 responses across the weekend."

"Over 90 per cent of participants opinion of driverless shuttle improved after enjoying a ride," he explained.

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Measures will be in place throughout the trial to limit the spread of coronavirus [Covid-19] and ensure the safety of customers, including additional cleaning across the day, automatic doors, and a maximum of three customers on board the 11-seater vehicle, it confirms.

Customers will be required to register prior to riding the shuttle and will be provided with a dedicated seat on board, Keolis confirms.

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A chaperone will always be on board to monitor the environment, the vehicle performance and provide information to passengers, according to Keolis Downer.

The driverless shuttle has undergone rigorous safety planning and testing to operate on public roads; top speed will be around 20km/h along Wharf Road.

"Through Keolis, we have been operating driverless shuttles since 2016 in Lyon, France. The shuttle is now an integral part of the multimodal network," Franks said.

"We are keen to accelerate the deployment of this technology in Australia and better understand the role autonomous shuttles can play in people’s door-to-door journeys," he added.

To find out more or participate in the survey, go to



Keolis Downer has been operating autonomous vehicles since 2016 and has transported in excess of 200,000 passengers, it states.

With 40 deployments worldwide and more than and 100,000 kilometres covered, Keolis is an expert in testing all aspects of safety, operations, technology and integration into the public transport offer, it says.

Keolis Downer is "leading the way" in the operations of autonomous vehicles, through the many trials that were conducted in Australia: La Trobe University in Melbourne (2017), Flinders University in Adelaide and Sydney Olympic Park, it explains.

With more than 4,000 employees and a presence in five states, Keolis Downer enables 250 million passenger journeys per year, the company states.

Established in 2009, Keolis Downer is a joint venture between Keolis - a leading public transport operator established in 16 countries, and Downer - the leading provider of integrated services in Australia and New Zealand, the company states.

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