Norway nears political agreement over driverless buses

Several Norwegian cities could see driverless buses on their roads within the next few years, with a majority in parliament expected to vote on Tuesday in favour of a new law enabling the automated transport to be trialled.

Norway nears political agreement over driverless buses
File photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB scanpix

Authorities in Oslo, Stavanger and Kongsberg already have plans in motion to implement the driverless buses in the near future, reports broadcaster NRK.

Oslo has hired operator Ruter to carry out a trial of the buses within the next one to two years.

“This is a technology that can dramatically change the concept of public transport,” Ruter’s administrative director Bernt Reitan Jenssen told NRK.

“We do not know how quickly [the process] will go, but it is hugely important for us to keep up and make an early start to learn more,” Jenssen added.

One key aspect of introducing the new transport form is whether it will reduce the number of bus drivers needed to operate public buses, with large parts of bus networks able to run automatically.

“Automatic operation of both buses and cars will reduce the need for drivers,” Jenssen confirmed.

But the leader of the Yrkestrafikkforbundet (Vocational Drivers’) association said that this would not necessarily hold true.

“A driver does more than operate a bus. Drivers are also responsible for safety and to help passengers,” the association’s chairperson Jim Klungnes told NRK.

“Increasing numbers are expected to use public transport, so more drivers will be needed, so this will also be a part of what type of public transport we have in future,” he added.

Lawmakers in Norway’s Stortinget parliament will be concerned with safety, among other aspects, as they look to pass laws providing for the testing of driverless buses.

Minister for Transport Ketil Solvik Olsen told NRK he expected a law enabling testing to be passed, thereby contributing to ensuring the safety of automated transport.

“We want to provide for legal testing of automated vehicles on Norwegian roads,” Olsen said.

Much safety is already ensured by computers, but thorough testing was required to ensure 100 percent safety, the minister added.

READ ALSO: Driverless Norwegian public transport can create jobs: minister


France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).