JR East to Start Autonomous Bus Service in Miyagi

Economy

Tome, Miyagi Pref., Dec. 2 (Jiji Press)--East Japan Railway Co. <9020>, or JR East, will start operating a self-driving bus service Monday on an exclusive road built on the site of a former rail track of its Kesennuma Line in a coastal area in the northeastern prefecture of Miyagi.

The service can reach a maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour, an unprecedented feature involving a large autonomous bus in Japan. It is attracting keen attention as an alternative means of transportation as railway operators in local areas are financially struggling due to falling passenger numbers.

"Measures that are in line with changes of the times are important," JR East Executive Vice President Katsumi Ise said at an event in the Miyagi city of Tome on Wednesday to unveil the self-driving bus to media, underlining the significance of introducing exclusive roads for buses and self-driving technology to them to maintain means of transportation in local areas.

After the Kesennuma Line was damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, JR East decided to introduce the so-called bus rapid transit system, in which rail tracks are converted to specialized roads for buses.

The company started operating the BRT service in 2012. It will launch the self-driving service on a 4.8-kilometer section between Yanaizu Station and Rikuzenyokoyama Station. Buses on the section will use sensors to detect magnetic markers embedded in the road.

[Copyright The Jiji Press, Ltd.]

Jiji Press