Hong Kong’s first driverless bus route may not survive its test run at an arts hub, after the district’s manager said the technology was not ready. The West Kowloon Cultural District has been testing a self-driving electric minibus on a 1km route along the harbourfront for several months, with a proposed timetable to run driverless shuttle services throughout the area by 2023. But Duncan Pescod, CEO of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, who is in charge of the area’s development, has expressed doubts about the vehicle, which was made by French firm Navya. While the pilot run is seen as an important step for Hong Kong’s development as a smart city, critics have said it betrays the district’s promise to be a pedestrian-only area, and raised doubts about it coexisting with walkers. “We have … no plans to introduce such a system at present,” Pescod said in an exchange on LinkedIn with politician Paul Zimmerman. “Indeed, in my view, the technology is not mature enough to use it in the district. Maybe in future.” Zimmerman, founder of urban planning concern group Designing Hong Kong, described the autonomous bus as a “beeping monster”, referring to an anti-collision mechanism that chimes and stops the bus whenever it detects objects in its immediate vicinity. In my view, the technology is not mature enough to use it in the district. Maybe in future Duncan Pescod, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority “If [such buses] have to drive through a heavily pedestrianised area, they basically have to stand still all the time,” Zimmerman told the Post . The Post took the autonomous shuttle – a Navya Arma – on a visit to the district last week. It took about 15 minutes to finish the journey, including stopping at three bus stops. The bus travelled at an average of 8km/h – similar to the speed of an adult jogging – although it has a maximum speed of 45km/h. Beijing, pushing electric vehicle market, is making it harder for start-ups to enter The bus chimed twice while coming to a sudden halt which jerked passengers, when two girls on bikes approached it from the front. The bus remained still when the children moved to its side, but still quite close to it. The vehicle, which can carry a maximum of 10 people at a time, drove along the Nursery Park, the construction site of the future Hong Kong Palace Museum, the Art Park, and a viewing terrace. Its passengers could also take in the view of the harbour. It runs on selected dates and the service could be suspended during events. Kay Ching Kit, a 32-year-old social worker, was one of the passengers on the bus. He said he enjoyed the ride and believed an autonomous shuttle system should serve the whole district in the future. “Hong Kong is falling behind in adapting to new technologies such as driverless electric cars,” Ching said. “I think it’s refreshing to have such a bus in the park.” But Ching said the district would also need to solve many practical issues, such as how to prevent people from going near it all the time, like the two girls had done. To achieve that, the bus might require a road separated from pedestrians, which would defeat the promise of the district being a pedestrian-only zone, Zimmerman said. He said the original plan was to have a driverless train system on an elevated rail along the northern edge of the district, to free up space for walking, and another similar system through a basement underneath the district. Construction of the massive basement is expected to start this year. All vehicles will be directed through the basement in the future. Zimmerman said a self-driving electric shuttle route could be tried in the basement, complementing the elevated train system. Hong Kong accelerates electric car scheme Wesley Wan Wai-hei, a member of the Environmental Protection Department’s steering committee on the promotion of electric vehicles, also doubted that driverless buses would work in a pedestrian zone. “There is always the risk of people getting hit,” Wan said. Under the authority’s proposed timetable, the test run will last until 2022. The full route, along the district’s northern edge and its southern harbourfront, may open once the northern avenue and the waterfront promenade have been completed, which is expected to be as early as 2023. A district authority spokeswoman said ground-level transport was “essential to serve the elderly, children and the disabled” along the 2km waterfront promenade. She said a low-frequency, low-speed electric shuttle “would not jeopardise the ‘vehicle-free’ design concept”. More than 6,000 visitors had taken part in the trial run, and a survey found most supported the system, she said. But the spokeswoman added that no decision had been made on the final adoption of the technology. A Transport Department spokeswoman said six other self-driving vehicles had been tested in the Science Park, the University of Science and Technology, and Tai Po Industrial Estate. She said such vehicles could not be registered and licensed for use on roads under existing laws, and the department had no concrete proposals to update the laws. Wan urged the government to allow his committee to study devising related regulations, such as clarifying liability in crashes involving self-driving vehicles. The safety of self-driving vehicles has come into question after several accidents. In 2017, a Navya Arma, the same model as the West Kowloon shuttle, hit a truck in Las Vegas, although the bus stopped as it was supposed to when it detected the truck, but the truck driver did not. Hong Kong should be encouraging electric vehicle use, not curbing it Last year, a self-driving car operated by Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, prompting the company to stop testing driverless vehicles on public roads for eight months. But those accidents have not stopped countries from testing the technology. Singapore, for example, has been testing autonomous shuttles on its Nanyang Technological University campus, and is going to test a full-size driverless bus around the campus this year. The country plans to deploy autonomous vehicles for commuter use by 2022. Navya did not respond to a request for comment.