Billionaire Xero founder Rod Drury is behind an idea for driverless public transport being considered for Queenstown. The project is still in its early stages, with the Transport Agency and Ministry of Transport scoping a study to see whether low-speed autonomous shuttles are feasible in New Zealand.
Drury has met with Minister of Transport Phil Twyford, the chair of the Transport Agency and officials to discuss his idea.
Each vehicle would carry passengers and cargo between the airport and the city along a designated corridor that only needs to be 1.4m wide, about the width of a bike lane, or 3.4m for two-way traffic.
Drury said when Covid struck it got him thinking about infrastructure projects that could help the country – including the tourist mecca Queenstown which has been hard hit by the economic downturn from the pandemic – back up and running.
“I just sort of reached out, did the work, showed it to Queenstown Council and got them involved.
“I think it’s just one of those good ideas that … once everyone saw it and thought about it … it’s something that is worth considering.”
Drury said it was a much cheaper than light rail and other capital-intensive public transport options. “Essentially you’re [just] painting lines on the road.
“And what’s different about having a dedicated lane is you don’t have to have all the technology which you would have with an autonomous taxi where it’s interacting with normal cars and … normal road users.
Queenstown Lakes District Council said the study would give a preliminary view on the viability of driverless public transport, and more work would be needed before rolling it out.
Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult said it could be years away, and there had been no conversation yet about who would pay for it. Nonetheless, he said it was an exciting idea.
“It’s certainly on our agenda. And look if you’re going to do it, what a great place to do it. You know, the coolest part of the world, let’s have the coolest public transport system.” Boult said Queenstown was the perfect place for this kind of technology.
“We certainly [are] a place where that sort of transport would go well.
“We are suited for it and we’ve got the initiative of coming up with the idea from somebody in our district – namely Rod – and we’ve got the enthusiasm to pursue it.”
Boult said Queenstown residents were progressive and he thought they would embrace the idea.
Drury and Wellington Mayor Andy Foster have also had general, high-level discussions about it.
Ministry of Transport manager of strategic policy and innovation Richard Cross said in a statement, one of the objectives of the study was to provide councils with good information to help them decide whether to invest in driverless tech.
“The study will use Queenstown as a real-world case study, to ensure that the results are meaningful and to identify issues that may need to be resolved if autonomous shuttles were to be deployed in New Zealand.
“The study will also consider where the technology could be deployed across New Zealand, in order for the results to be applied more broadly, and to provide the best possible assessment for getting the benefits from such technologies.”
Cross said laws, rules and regulations would also need to be looked at, with the study to be put out to tender in mid-November.