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Oct 30, 2020

What is a Demand-Responsive Bus Service?

The rising popularity of Demand-Responsive Transportation is ensuring that communities—particularly in rural areas—are receiving better access to public transport services more than ever.

What is a Demand-Responsive Bus Service?

As technology continues to advance, opportunities are allowing Transit Agencies to offer services in a more personalised, environmentally friendly and cost-effective way. The rising popularity of Demand-Responsive Transportation is ensuring that communities—particularly in rural areas—are receiving better access to public transport services more than ever. When a Demand-Responsive Bus Service is introduced to a community, the way in which people can move from point A to B is transformed. 

What exactly is a Demand-Responsive Bus Service?

A Demand-Responsive Bus Service is an upgrade from a traditional time-table based, fixed-route service. With the advancement of technology, on-demand buses have the ability to offer a superior service that can be booked online at the convenience of the commuter. A Demand-Responsive Bus Service will therefore pick up patrons from an agreed location, at an agreed time. Great benefits can be found for Transit Agencies and Bus Operators, who are able to expand their coverage and ridership more cost-effectively, as well as for commuters who may have difficulty accessing regular bus services. The flexibility offered by a Demand-Responsive Bus Service is second to none.

What is on-demand transportation?

The future of the public transport industry will be on-demand. On-demand transport is also referred to as ‘Demand-Responsive Transport’, ‘Microtransit’, or ‘Dial-a-ride’ to name a few. 

On-demand transport is typically a reservation service, in which patrons can book a ride on a preferred local transit service, and depending on the coverage areas and passenger demandusually via a small bus or car fleet offered by a local agency. 

In urban areas, public transport continues to work well with traditional services due to the high population density. On-demand shared mobility services are quickly growing traction due to their ability to expand coverage areas and increase ridership providing agencies with an additional mode of transport to serve the public. No more is this is evident in rural areas, where sparsely populated geographies are becoming increasingly harder to service due to funding constraints.The infrequent nature of passenger requests makes it a challenge to service under a traditional fixed-route system.

On-demand services can significantly improve the quality of life for users in rural areas, by removing the reliance on private vehicle ownership , allowing greater accessibility to social services and connecting community members to medical appointments, retail locations and employment opportunities etc. 

There are also numerous advantages of on-demand services for transport operators and facilitators, such as creating an opportunity to move away from large empty bus fleets in off-peak times, implementing a way to access more people with less vehicles, increase access points, provide greater efficiency for feeder services of main corridor lines and minimise vehicle emissions. 

On-demand transportation will always be characterised by its flexibility, affordability and convenience. 


How does an on-demand bus work?

An on-demand bus needs to be powered by a reliable technology platform that can service Bus Operators and passengers. Passengers will typically be able to book online, via an app or by phoning an operator to book on their behalf. 

At the time of booking an on-demand bus, the once manual task of scheduling and dispatching vehicles is now automated.Complex algorithms can now choose the preferred route for the patron depending on the vehicle's current location, the time it’s needed, the passengers pickup location and the destination. This ensures vehicles are always taking the most efficient journey to pickup and delivery passengers. 

The main advantage of a Demand-Responsive Transport system is it enables a constant optimisation of vehicle movements. Thus, cutting down on wasted miles driven by empty vehicles.

These route calculations are even responding to last minute bookings—optimising the best route for the vehicle based on incoming passenger requests. For example, if a rider requires a wheelchair accessible vehicle, the system can automatically account for additional set down time upon pick, to ensure the passengers can comfortably board the vehicle without feeling rushed. Or, if a routine clean is required as a result of COVID-19 protocol the system can adjust accordingly as required to include this in its timetable and factor in shift break times. 

These services can be configured as public transport services or private transport networks, giving corporates and institutions an additional layer of security by restricting access to staff or students.

The most advanced Demand-Responsive Transport platforms have blurred the lines between shared-transit modes. Providing fleet operators with the ability to run public, corporate or community transport from one platform, personalise the service offering to the unique requirements of their passengers and in turn, maximise the efficiency of their fleet.

Why is there an increasing demand for public transport (and how can on-demand help)? 

The cost of owning a vehicle, or multiple vehicles is not only expensive, but unsustainable for the future of the environment. The transport industry alone contributed more than 29 percent of overall emissions in 2017, and continuing on this trajectory will be detrimental for future generations. 

Utilising public transport is typically a cheaper alternative than associated expenses of maintaining a vehicle. For example, in Great Britain, spend on transportation in 2017/2018 made up on average 14 percent of household expenditure— £80.20 per week. As a consequence, expenditure on transport costs has increased since 2013 in rural areas, placing pressure on individuals who live in locations where public transport is not as accessible than in urban areas. 

This makes taking advantage of public transport an attractive option, and often a necessity for community members who are unable to afford their own private modes of transportation. An increasing demand for public transport also continues to increase with an ageing population who are unable to either drive, or upkeep single-occupancy vehicles (SOV). 

The issues therefore arise when there’s a lack of access to regular public transportation. This is where on-demand comes in. 

Expanding coverage and increasing ridership is an attainable goal for transit operators desiring to capitalise and increase patron usage. In particular, Demand-Responsive Bus Services have the ability to decrease the cost of operations for Transit Agencies, and offer passengers an affordable alternative.

How can I improve my bus service? 

For Bus Operators that are looking at a sustainable and cost-effective solution to improve the utilisation of their existing fixed-route services, implementing a Demand-Responsive Bus Service is a clear next step. Demand-Responsive Transport projects can be launched relatively quickly once all parties are on-board. 

So where do you start? 

1. First thing’s first—assess your current transit landscape

In order to identify what opportunities there are, you’ll need to assess your current transit capacity, patronage numbers and associated costs with running your services. What is your passengers to vehicle hours ratio? By outlining core metrics and ROI, you’ll be able to move forward confidently in what your service is offering.

2. Talk to your patrons

Find out what’s working, and what’s not from the source. Ask customers who use your transit network to identify their pain points, and provide insight into what they appreciate about the service. In order to attain a full perspective on the current landscape, market research with your customers is imperative. 

3. Acknowledge your weaknesses 

It can be difficult as an Agency to admit to any shortcomings. But overcoming these weaknesses is often the very thing that will send passengers flocking to your service. 

4. Find a reliable technology partner to simulate a plan

Now that you have a better understanding of what your bus service looks like, it’s time to look to the future and find a technology provider who knows what they’re talking about to help you with feasibility studies.

In order to successfully fulfil operations, finding the right tech partner is key. Transit Agencies should utilise a tech partner who can provide a software platform that covers all the bases—bookings, payments, cancellations, dynamic route adjustment, smart stop selection, distraction-free operation for drivers and data insights provided by sharp analytics (hint: look no further, Liftango’s got you covered).

5. Develop a comprehensive launch plan

Once you have simulated the service design you can confidently move into launch phase. This is where a well-coordinated communications plan must be executed. Ensuring your prospective passengers are well-educated and familiar with how to book, pay and ride on your service will have a major impact on uptake. 

A Demand-Responsive Bus Service is a clear next step for Transit Agencies looking to enhance their services in a sustainably responsible and cost-effective way. Taking advantage of the incredible opportunities technology holds by implementing a service that can respond to the unique requirements of your community. On-demand is providing industries with efficiencies unseen in previous times. 

If you would like to know more about demand-responsive transport, download our Definitive Guide to DRT today.

Download the Definitive Guide to Demand-Responsive Transport.
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