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Autonomous public bus begins carrying passengers in Gunma Pref. trial

An autonomous bus operates a test run on a public road in the Gunma prefectural capital of Maebashi, on Dec. 14, 2018. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

MAEBASHI -- Autonomous public buses have begun operating test runs in traffic while carrying passengers here, northeast of Tokyo, on Dec. 14, the very first trials of the kind in Japan.

The bus takes passengers from JR Maebashi Station, in the Gunma prefectural capital of Maebashi, to the Jomo Electric Railway Co.'s Chuo Maebashi Station. The 1-kilometer pre-programmed route, driven at a speed of about 20 kilometers an hour takes roughly 10 minutes. There are two buses an hour and the fare is 100 yen.

The bus is equipped with a laser sensor, camera, GPS and other equipment that automatically controls the brake, accelerator and steering wheel. It also recognizes the color of traffic lights and vehicle's position and distance in relation to other vehicles on the road.

The operation of driverless vehicles on public roads is illegal in Japan, so a driver sits in the driver's seat and opens and closes the bus' door and offers other help for passengers.

Miyu Kaji, 19, a student in the city of Midori, also in Gunma Prefecture, said, "The bus runs slow, and I felt comfortable riding on it."

The test run will continue until the end of March 2019, with the aim of being put into practical use in 2020.

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