La Rochelle is a medium-sized city (146 362 inhabitants in the metropolitan area) located on the west coast of France in the Poitou-Charentes region. La Rochelle has been at the forefront of the "urban ecology" (long before the talk about sustainable development) since the seventies. It was the first town in France to pedestrianise its centre (1973) and to introduce a public bike scheme (1976) and the first town ever to hold a car-free day (1997). Since the early nineties, La Rochelle has developed a strong policy on clean, silent transport modes, in particular electric vehicles. Nowadays, a wide range of electro-mobility services are offered to users: urban goods deliveries using electric vehicles, electric shuttles buses, electro-solar sea boats and electric car-sharing. All passengers transport modes, as well as the bus, park-and-ride and the bike-sharing system are part of the 'Yélo' public transport service and can be accessed with a unique smartcard.
The La Rochelle Urban Community's 10-year "Urban Transport Plan" sets itself several objectives, including modal shift from private cars to soft modes, fairer distribution of public space among the different modes of transport and transport and pollution reduction. Results have been encouraging on the following aspects: limitation of the growth of private cars in the city centre and improvement in the share of public space. The local authority published its second Urban Transport Plan (2011-2021). One of its priorities is the development of on-demand transport. La Rochelle hosted a showcase of automated vehicles in 2007 followed by the longer demonstrations in 2011, implemented in the framework of the FP6 project, CityMobil.
La Rochelle's large-scale demonstration
La Rochelle started its large-scale demonstration on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. The official launch by Brigitte Desveaux, Vice-President of the Urban Community of La Rochelle in charge of Mobility, was held the day prior to the start of service to introduce the initiative to the public.
This launch has been made possible thanks to the preparatory work initiated immediately after the selection of La Rochelle as a demo site. Indeed, road adaptations have been needed to ensure enough safety, traffic lights have been installed in order to give priority to the ARTS vehicles at crossings and on-street parking has been removed to provide enough space for the vehicle.
There is currently no legal framework in France to allow such systems to circulate. This is why La Rochelle partners have engaged in a continuous dialogue with the French State authorities, throughout 2014, to obtain the permission to operate the driverless vehicles temporarily on the route retained. The discussions resulted in an authorisation delivered by the Transport Minister in December.
Actions to accompany the demo are crucial to ensure a smooth implementation. This is why La Rochelle has consulted numerous stakeholders (inhabitants, the police, shopkeepers, bike associations) beforehand. Significant awareness-raising actions among school pupils have been undertaken, including aworkshop in ten schools, a special edition of "Le Petit Quotidien” (national newspapers for 6-10 years) on La Rochelle’s CityMobil2 demo…
The demonstration in itself is being implemented step-by-step. The automated vehicles provided by Robosoft are operating on an initial segment linking the Aquarium with the Tourism office. The vehicle, carrying up to 8 passengers, will serve passengers free of charge from Monday to Saturday. An additional segment has been added on 26 January along with 3 new vehicles. Both segments will be joined to create the full demonstration route during the third phase of the demo from mid-February to late April 2015 with 6 Robosoft vehicles.
- Dates: December 2014 – April 2015
- Vehicles: Robosoft Robucity
- Route length: 1.8 km
- Number of trips: 2100
- Distance covered: 3,778 km
- Number of passengers: 14,660
The demonstration took place in the city centre of La Rochelle where vehicles interacted with cyclists, pedestrians and cars.