Increasingly frequent traffic jams, discussions on the widening the motorways, the advantages of the tram, free transport from March 2020: many topics related to mobility are highly relevant for the 200,000 cross-border commuters who travel to Luxembourg every day to work. For the majority of them, the car remains the preferred means of travel, whether for geographical, cultural or practical reasons. As the roads are saturated, a fact that cross-border workers know very well, it seems essential to quickly find new mobility options.
Innovative solutions on both sides of the border
The TERMINAL project was launched at the beginning of the year to help develop better mobility conditions. With an overall budget of around €3 million – of which €1.8 million is provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Interreg VA Grande Région programme – TERMINAL aims to test a cross-border shuttle service operating with an electric automated minibus under real traffic conditions.
This project is a European first. In addition to solving technical challenges in terms of communication between bus engineering and traffic technology, it also aims to study the requirements of the legal framework as well as those of commuters. It also plans to collect data on on-demand mobility, i.e. the possibility of ordering a bus independently of a fixed timetable, and to study how automated vehicles and such on-demand mobility services can be integrated into the existing public transport system. The University of Luxembourg is in charge of this aspect and will conduct tests with an automated vehicle.
“As part of this project, we will review all the elements necessary for such cross-border mobility, including legal requirements and user acceptance,” says Jonas Vogt, engineer at the Saarland University of Applied Sciences (htw saar). “We will gather feedback and experience from commuters on the use of our service before, during and after the operational tests, which will last about 6 months in 2021,” he says.
This initiative, for which htw saar is the lead partner, is considered by the Saarland Minister of Economic Affairs, Employment, Energy and Transport, Anke Rehlinger, as “a driver of the mobility of the future in the Greater Region”. It is supported by six operational partners, including the Ministry of Economy, Labour, Energy and Transport of the Saarland, the University of Kaiserslautern, the University of Luxembourg via the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT), Utopian Future Technologies SA (Kussbuss) and the University of Lorraine.
A partnership and consultation strategy in the Greater Region
The TERMINAL project is integrated into another transnational project: the cross-border digital testbed for automated and connected driving inaugurated on April 3 in Schengen. Jointly established by the Ministry of the Economy and the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure in collaboration with their French and German counterparts, the digital testbed for automated and connected driving reflects the common desire of the three countries to promote the development and experimentation of different technologies in a real cross-border context. “With the 5G-CroCo project carried out on the Luxembourg side by POST Luxembourg, TERMINAL is one of the projects directly incorporated into the testbed. We use the site to conduct automated driving and other practical tests in real conditions. We are also planning to test the automated vehicle of the University of Luxembourg, our operational partner in Luxembourg,” explains Jonas Vogt.
At the official inauguration of the digital testbed for automated and connected driving, Étienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, stressed that “it is of crucial importance of these new forms of mobility function everywhere in Europe and across borders”. Automated and connected vehicles operating in several different countries face many challenges such as the harmonisation of road networks, traffic signs, speed limits and more generally traffic rules. Only a strategy of transnational partnerships and consultation could lead to the efficient development of cross-border public transport, and the partners in the TERMINAL project are aware of this.
For Anthony Auert, Manager of the Luxembourg AutoMobility Cluster, mobility within the Greater Region also faces challenges such as reducing the carbon footprint and improving traffic flows. “Autonomous and electric driving will certainly provide concrete solutions to these challenges, but before a massive deployment can be made on the toads, it is important to validate these emerging technologies,” he says. “In this context, the TERMINAL project and the cross-border testbed effectively support the emergence of the mobility of tomorrow.”
The results of this multidisciplinary and comprehensive mobility project will take the form of a manual on the development of cross-border automated public transport services for transport operators in rural areas. Recommendations on the implementation of innovative mobility models will also be made to policy makers and various transport providers. Statec recently stated that in just 30 years, the number of cross-border commuters has increased six-fold. In 2018, they accounted for nearly 45% of the country’s employees. Faced with this ever-increasing influx of workers, mainly French, German and Belgian, innovative solutions must be found on both sides of the border.
Jonas Vogt is confident: “Fully automated vehicles, i.e. vehicles operating without a driver, will probably not appear until 2040-2050. But I think it is realistic to have highly automated vehicles for public transport or deliveries on predefined routes within the next 10 years. At present, it is legally prohibited to drive an automated vehicle without a responsible driver, so the legal framework must first be changed. This issue must be addressed at the level of the European Union”.