SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9484) subsidiary SB Drive Corp., a company that promotes smart mobility services, and the Town of Sakai in Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture announced an agreement on January 27, 2020 that will see the town provide Japan’s first self-driving buses on public roads starting from April 2020.
Self-driving to serve Sakai Town residents with limited mobility options
Sakai Town, which lies approximately 70 kilometers north of Tokyo, has a population of about 25,000 people. It faces a number of mobility issues: lack of rail access, an aging population with more people surrendering their driver’s licenses, a shortage of bus drivers, and challenges in maintaining public transportation services. In these circumstances, improving access to mobility has been an urgent issue for Sakai residents.
Once he became aware of SB Drive’s self-driving trials, Mayor Masahiro Hashimoto quickly proposed bringing SB Drive’s self-driving solution to Sakai Town, and the council approved the resolution in less than two months, a very short time frame for municipalities in Japan. Hashimoto’s passion to improve mobility for residents was instrumental in making Sakai the first municipality in Japan to provide practical self-driving bus services, starting in April 2020.
SB Drive will open a satellite office in Sakai Town to fully support bus operation and management. Self-driving buses owned by SB Drive will operate along routes that connect medical clinics, post offices, schools, banks and other key community facilities.
In the summer of 2020, Sakai Town plans to deploy three buses it will purchase. While the buses that can seat up to eleven people are designed to be fully self-driving in the future, initially two staff members will be on board to conduct manual operations if necessary.
(Original article posted on January 28, 2020)
By SoftBank News Editors