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Expectation and Experience: Passenger Acceptance of Autonomous Public Transportation Vehicles

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Passenger acceptance is a key factor for the successful integration, uptake and use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the domain of public transportation. Especially knowing opinions and attitudes around safety, comfort and convenience. We discuss a pilot study conducted as part of a larger research project where AVs are being tested to transport members of the general public on a specified route with designated stops. We present preliminary findings of fieldwork conducted where people were asked their opinions and attitudes both before and after riding on an AV shuttle as a passenger for the first time. This allows us to compare user expectation beforehand with actual experience afterwards.
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Expectation and experience: Passenger acceptance of
autonomous public transportation vehicles
Grace Eden1, Benjamin Nanchen1, Randolf Ramseyer1, Florian Evéquoz1, 2
1University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, HES-SO, 3960 Sierre, Switzerland
{grace.eden, benjamin.nanchen, randolf.ramseyer,
florian.evequoz}@hevs.ch
2University of Fribourg, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
{florian.evequoz}@unifr.ch
Abstract. Passenger acceptance is a key factor for the successful integration,
uptake and use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the domain of public transpor-
tation. Especially knowing opinions and attitudes around safety and comfort.
We discuss a pilot study conducted as part of a larger research project where
AVs are being tested to transport members of the general public on a specified
route with designated stops. We present preliminary findings of fieldwork con-
ducted where people were asked their opinions and attitudes both before and af-
ter riding on an AV shuttle as a passenger for the first time. This enabled us to
compare user expectation beforehand with actual experience afterwards.
Keywords. Autonomous vehicles, Public transportation, Human-Machine In-
teraction, Passenger acceptance, Fieldwork.
1 Introduction and background
Autonomous passenger vehicles are being piloted across the globe to assess both their
technically and operationally feasibility. In June 2016, PostBus, the primary public
bus transportation provider in Switzerland and the Mobility Lab Sion-Valais joined
together for a pilot study, the Sion Smart Shuttle. The project began in a cordoned-off
private area from December 2015 to Spring 2016. However, once government ap-
proval was granted in June 2016, the testing was moved on to public roadways and
dual use vehicle/pedestrian areas. This phase of the pilot will run until October 2017.
In this project commercial and academic partners collaborate to develop novel mobili-
ty services. In parallel with technical development, understanding customer behaviour
and acceptance of the AVs and in particular passenger reactions to riding on the shut-
tle is also being investigated. This paper presents preliminary findings of a pilot case
study as part of a larger project where we also investigate how other road users inter-
pret AV behaviour [1] as well as passenger attitudes and opinions of the AV Shuttle.
In this pilot study we took an approach of conducting interviews with passengers both
before and after riding on the shuttle to provide us with an opportunity to compare
user expectation beforehand with actual experience afterwards.
2 Understanding passenger opinions of AV public transport
The Sion Smart Shuttle is the first pilot project of AVs on public roads in Switzerland
and operates on a route of 1.5 kilometers in the Old Town district of the city. After
months of refining and stabilizing the technical aspects of the AVs mapping and sen-
sor operations to ensure safety, the first passenger acceptance pilot study commenced
over a one-month period from November-December 2016 with an aim to understand
passenger opinions of AV public transportation.
The AV Shuttle can hold up to 11 people with an attendant on board monitoring, and
at times taking over, its operation. We conducted nine fieldwork sessions with partic-
ipants who agreed to be interviewed and to take a ride on the AV shuttle. The study
included 17 passengers: 3 individuals, 4 couples, and 2 groups of three. In addition,
the sessions were also video-recorded using two mounted action cameras: one with an
interior view of passengers and the other with an exterior view of the road ahead
(Fig.1).
Fig. 1. Two mounted action cameras record passenger and road activity simultaneously.
The fieldwork had three components. First, participants were briefly interviewed be-
fore riding the shuttle and asked to describe their initial expectations including per-
ceptions of safety, comfort and any other feelings and opinions. Second, we conduct-
ed video-based observation [2] of participants’ actual journey on the shuttle. Third,
after riding on the shuttle we conducted a post-ride interview with the same questions
to compare if and how their opinions may have changed. Even though our intention
was to analyse the video data for passenger interactions, we discovered that it has
been more valuable for understanding how other road users interpret the intentions of
the AV and how the AV communicates those intentions to other road users [1]. The
findings discussed here are taken from the pre and post ride interviews with a focus
on passengers’ opinions related to safety and their satisfaction of the AV’s comfort
and convenience.
2.1 Opinions about safety
Before riding on the AV shuttle 4 participants expressed safety concerns because of
news reports of a recent accident in September 2016 [3]. The shuttle hit the fender of
a stationary van while in autonomous mode. Fortunately, there were no injuries as a
result of the collision although the fact that it happened made some people uneasy.
Others expressed concerns related to the reliability of breaking and turning. Finally,
the technology in general was brought into question as one participant noted: I don’t
trust it much because something could go wrong with the IT system. You go on it but
you don’t trust it 100%”. Even so, the 13 remaining participants said they had no
concerns before riding on the shuttle primarily because of its very slow speed (maxi-
mum of 20km). Also, many had experience with other types of driverless transporta-
tion such as driverless metro trains at airports. Even though these are on guided tracks
some people still felt that this experience was in some way similar.
After riding the shuttle all participants who had safety concerns beforehand no longer
had them afterwards. These overall positive opinions were encouraging. Although,
many passengers commented that seatbelts are necessary especially because the AV
lurches forward when it makes sudden hard stops. It frequently does this when it de-
tects an ‘obstacle’ such as a pedestrian, car or bicycle passing close by. Many partici-
pants said they were impressed with the automated navigation, including its steering
ability through narrow spaces. Although participants responses were positive, there is
an important caveat: most agreed that their perception of safety might change (safety
concerns would increase) if it was a large-sized bus with no attendants on board trav-
elling on an actual route at regular speed.
2.2 Satisfaction with comfort and convenience
Another key factor to passenger acceptance is comfort and convenience. The shuttle’s
large panoramic windows were received positively because of the wide view it pro-
vides to the outside world. However, most participants said that the comfort of the
seats could be improved because they were too hard and that seatbelts are needed to
prevent people from lurching forward during sudden hard stops. Additionally, 4 par-
ticipants commented that the noise from the hydraulic compressor was too loud.
Many participants commented on its small size saying that it would need to be larger
to accommodate luggage and shopping bags.
Regarding convenience, all participants said that the current route was not practical
because it is in a largely pedestrian area of the old town that people prefer to walk
through. Rather, many said that they would like to use it for more practical journeys
such as from the train station, the local airport, or the park and ride. This feedback
indicates that there is acceptance of the AVs as a potentially useful addition to the
public transportation network for smaller routes that may not be served by large bus-
es. Additionally, many participants wanted to become more involved in the project.
For instance, by adding a social media component that would allow them to share
their experience online with their friends and family. Also, some suggest that an in-
formation sheet be available explaining the technology and how the AV operates.
3 Discussion and further work
This brief pilot study has provided valuable information related to perceptions of
safety and scalability. We discovered that in this regard, scaling up to real-world sce-
narios presents challenges to perceptions of safety that need to be considered in future
designs. For instance, current large public transportation buses hold up to 60 people in
14 rows or more. Perhaps the interiors could be redesigned to facilitate trust in some
way? Also, in all likelihood the on board attendant will continue to be necessary at
least for the foreseeable future. Trade-offs between perceptions of safety and practi-
cality were also identified. Many participants said that the speed is slow enough to
feel secure but too slow to go to work in the morning.
To explore possible future interactions with AV public transportation we will conduct
participatory design workshops with passengers. In particular, we are interested in
designing new ways of maintaining passenger trust by providing greater transparency
of the AV decision-making process and the choices it makes around obstacle detec-
tion, braking and steering. Initially we will explore a mobile application or dedicated
interface inside the bus where passengers can monitor these activities. We will also
generate ideas around new interior bus configurations. Finally, lessons learned for the
project include the value of conducting fieldwork in three phases: pre and post ride
interviews enable us to compare attitudes before and after. The video presented the
team with new and unexpected research questions related for improving the commu-
nication of AV intentions. Furthermore, the participatory design workshops will facil-
itate the co-design of new communication and interaction mechanisms.
4 References
1. Grace Eden, Benjamin Nanchen, Randolf Ramseyer, and Florian Evéquoz. 2017. On the
Road with an Autonomous Passenger Shuttle: Integration in Public Spaces. In Proc.
CHI’17, Denver CO, New York: ACM Press, pp. 1569-1576.
2. Christian Heath, Jon Hindmarsh, and Paul Luff. 2010. Video in Qualitative Research: Ana-
lysing social interaction in everyday life. London: Sage.
3. https://www.postauto.ch/en/news/smartshuttle-testing-sion-resumes
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After collecting qualitative data from in-depth interviews, focus groups, or field observations, students and researchers often struggle to make sense of it. This step-by-step guide draws on the authors' many years of experience carrying out qualitative research and conducting trainings on the subject. Their book describes how to analyze qualitative data in a systematic and rigorous way. The authors introduce and outline applied thematic analysis, an inductive approach that draws on established and innovative theme-based techniques suited to the applied research context. Chapters follow the sequence of activities in the analysis process and also include discussions of mixed methods, choosing the most appropriate software, and how to write up and present the results. "This book presents what all of the books I've tried to use in the past have failed to present—how to analyze qualitative data."—Catherine C. Schifter, Temple University "This book does a wonderful job of explaining how important thematic analysis is for producing good research, and it uses rich and detailed examples to do it."—Matthew Hartley, University of Pennsylvania
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"This book provides step-by-step instructions on how to analyze text generated from in-depth interviews and focus groups - i.e., transcripts. The book is primarily designed for research studies with an applied focus, but is also useful for theoretically oriented qualitative research. The book covers all aspects of the qualitative data analysis process including planning, data preparation, identification of themes, codebook development and code application, reliability and inter-coder agreement, data reduction techniques, comparative techniques, integration with quantitative data, and software considerations. The book describes what the authors call "applied thematic analysis", because it is the approach predominantly used in applied qualitative studies (and increasingly in academic contexts). The method employs a phenomenological approach to data analysis which has a primary aim of describing the experiences and perceptions of research participants. The approach presented is similar to Grounded Theory - in that it is inductive, content-driven, and searches for themes within textual data - and is complementary to Grounded Theory on many levels. However, within an applied context a phenomenological approach is primarily concerned with characterizing and summarizing perceptions and lived experiences and applying the results to a particular research problem, rather than building and assessing theoretical models"--