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September 10, 2020

5 Strategies to Successfully Integrate On-Demand Transport

Underutilised infrastructure is a big problem. See how on-demand shared transport systems are changing this in five easy steps.

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What Issues are Transport Agencies Facing in Australia?

Australia’s transport agencies are facing a big problem—much of the existing public transportation infrastructure is severely underutilised. The number of passengers across the entire bus network is in a steady decline, and each city has specific lines that are seeing hardly any ridership. Add in the impact of COVID-19, and state governments face challenges in encouraging passengers to feel safe and comfortable in taking advantage of their services again. 

In Melbourne, Transport Department data shows that many of the city’s bus routes carry ten or fewer passengers per day. The line running from Rosebud to the Chisholm Institute’s local campus is the most barren. This route saw an average of only three daily passengers back in 2017. Worse yet, some night buses were found to have carried no passengers at all on weekends.

Operating barely-used transport lines is costing municipalities more than it should. But the reason for their existence is rooted in adequate transportation coverage. The least used routes in a city’s mass transit system often serve lower-density areas where people lack connectivity. Without an alternative to turn to, transport agencies are choosing to eat the costs to provide accessibility to citizens.

The inconvenient scheduling of such lines further contributes to their unpopularity. People shy away from public transport services when they are infrequent or have stops that are difficult to get to. Instead, these potential passengers choose to drive their cars—contributing to issues of parking demand and traffic-problems.

How Does On-Demand Transport Fill the Gap?

Luckily, there is a solution emerging—one that can help municipalities affordably expand coverage, grow ridership of fixed-route transit, and meet the transportation demands of a local. It’s known as on-demand transport or Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT).

“Unlike fixed-route transit, on-demand is a completely flexible system.On-demand transportation services are flexible mobility options that typically operate through medium-capacity vehicles and app-based software.

Working much like ride-hailing services  like Uber, on-demand transport enables users to request a ride at the moment it is required and be picked up quickly and conveniently. These shuttle services continuously adjust to the needs of passengers, using real-time data to dynamically plan the most efficient routes and stops. Unlike fixed-route transit, on-demand is a completely flexible system.

This mode of transport can serve low coverage areas more effectively by providing suitable stops for the passengers, reducing travel times and supplying convenient connections to main transit lines. By accommodating their real needs, passengers will be incentivised to use on-demand (in conjunction with connected mass transport) over their private cars.

Five Strategies for On-Demand Pilots

  1. Aim for Superior Quality
  2. Leverage Your Weaknesses
  3. Develop a Clear Communication
  4. Select a Service Area with the Most Impact
  5. Choose a Proven Partner

The benefits of on-demand have captured the attention of many transport agencies. However, launching these services can be a daunting task. Running small trials to test this innovative way of transit is one of the best methods for a city to introduce an on-demand program.

Trials offer agencies a chance to get a grip on the Demand-Responsive Transport sphere without having to worry about managing a massive service area. The modest size of pilot programs enables cities to gather valuable information about service performance and areas for improvement, which can be used to perfect a full on-demand roll-out. For municipalities interested in launching a comprehensive MaaS (mobility-as-a-service) program, on-demand trials provide an excellent opportunity for transport agencies to familiarise themselves with running a modern, tech-powered service.

On-demand pilots can be run in zones with pressing transit problems, in areas with high car usage and places where fixed-route transit struggles to supply good service.

But for these trials to be successful, agencies should follow five key guidelines:

1. Aim for Superior Quality

The big draw card for passengers to an on-demand system is that it offers what traditional transport options currently don’t—an affordable service with superior convenience and comfort.

Because on-demand is a new modality, there will be a bit of friction to overcome. The experience must be exceptional to persuade travellers to add a ‘new’ leg to their journeys.

Some aspects of this elevated experience come innately in on-demand travel, such as shorter travel times, custom scheduling and more convenient stops. However, transport agencies will need to do more to deliver the level of quality that will attract passengers en masse. This extra level should include essentials like affordable pricing, as well as luxuries like onboard WiFi, charging stations and guaranteed seats.

2. Leverage Your Weaknesses

It can be tough for transport agencies to publicly admit to any shortcomings of the network.

But these weaknesses are often the very thing that will send passengers flocking to new on-demand options. Agencies can use the forces at play to position on-demand trials as the problem-solver travellers have been waiting for.

Such deficiencies can include lack of parking at a rail station or minimal passenger onboarding capability for the mass transit leg. For example, TfNSW’s new metroline has a capacity of 40,000 per hour. And yet, there are only 4000 new car spaces available for parking. They needed on-demand services to get more passengers to the train stations, as well as minimise the number of single-occupancy vehicles (SOV) travelling and parking there.

3. Develop a Clear Communication

Speaking of positioning, the entire communication strategy behind an on-demand pilot needs to be well-planned.

The marketing and communications promoting the trial should be able to convey the benefits and clearly answer the following questions:

  • Will it be affordable?
  • Will it be easy to use?
  • Will it cut down travel times?
  • Does it provide accessibility to more passengers?
  • Does it fill a gap in the current transport network?
  • Does it help passengers connect to transport hotspots (CBDs, main transit lines, etc.)?
  • How is it more convenient than travelling by private SOVs?
  • How is it more convenient than travelling by traditional mass transit lines?

4. Select a Service Area with the Most Impact

To maximise financial viability on-demand programs should be trialed in areas where there is significant demand for the service.

The chosen trial locale requires two things: the need for good mass transit service options and travellers with an obvious incentive to choose on-demand over traditional public transport, ride-hailing or driving their private cars.

On-demand pilots will be most successful when they connect to major transport hubs, large employers, business districts, educational campuses or other popular destinations. For instance, if a large number of commuting workers travel from a specific residential area to a corporate site, an on-demand connection between the two could reduce traffic congestion on the linking roadways.

5. Choose a Proven Operations Partner

Perhaps the most important determiner of success in an on-demand trial is the partner chosen to fulfil its operations. The software side of the program is particularly critical to providing an easy-to-use service that can adapt to meet the needs of travellers at any given time.

Transit agencies should pick 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.

Get insights to one of our latest Demand-Responsive Transport projects with North Lincolnshire Council's JustGoBus service—with a ten times larger service zone than your average DRT project.

About the Author

JJ O'Brien

JJ O'Brien


A Chief Marketing Officer that doesn't mind geeking out on a good sci-fi series, loves cooking American-style BBQ and enjoys seeing the positive impact of a well-crafted message.