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October 6, 2020

What is Demand-Responsive Transport?

Gain the foundation for understanding what Demand-Responsive Transport is, what problems it solves and where it fits in today’s transit landscape.

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The landscape for Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) has changed dramatically in recent years. There are many different forms and names for DRT. This article will give you the foundation for understanding what Demand-Responsive Transport is, what problems it solves and where it fits in today’s transit landscape.

Also known as On-Demand Transport, Paratransit, Dial-a-Ride, Non-Emergency Medical Transport (NEMT), Microtransit or Community Transport—Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) is a transport service characterised by a ‘reservation’ mechanism. It enables passengers to book their journey at a convenient time during normal operating hours.

Passengers can book trips through a call centre or smart phone App and can designate the pick up and drop off location and a time most convenient to them. Unlike traditional transit services, passengers do not have to conform to a fixed timetable in order to access the service. Instead, modern-day DRT is powered by sophisticated algorithms that coordinate the scheduling of passengers, dispatch and routing of vehicles and ensure the continuous optimisation and efficiency of the service.

What problems does Demand-Responsive Transport solve?

Demand-Responsive Transport solves four primary problems.

  1. Provides transport services for underserved and rural areas

DRT makes it possible for people to access transport in areas that are underserved or lack access to fixed-route public transit. This improved the ability for members of the community to participate in employment and take advantage of essential services.

  1. Mobility for the elderly and ‘aging-in-place’ communities

For elderly members of the community that do not have access to a private vehicle it provides a way to connect with medical, retail and other essential services. 

  1. Improves the cost of running fixed-route services

By replacing under-utilised fixed-route services, Fleet Operators can increase patronage without the need to run additional vehicles. 

  1. Visibility to onboard capacity & better fleet data

Having access to onboard capacity of vehicles allows operators to provide safer services where the need for social distancing and contract tracing is required. It also allows operators to make rapid, data-driven decisions with regard to fleet size if demand moves beyond peak capacity.

Demand-Responsive Transport Examples

There are many types of Demand-Responsive Transport. Each with their varying degrees of responsibility. Booking a trip within a smartphone App is the ‘new norm’. And traditional services that use website or phone bookings are becoming less prevalent.

  1. Paratransit (NEMT, Community Transport)

This is an accessibility-enabled fleet that offers door-to-door service for passengers. These services can be run by community groups, Fleet Operators or Transit Agencies and will use a mix of shuttles, taxis or small passenger vehicles to respond to pick up requests. 

  1. On-Demand Public Transport

These public transport services, typically service the first and last mile. They are a mixed-size fleet in terms of capacity and will connect commuters to a main corridor or mass transit line. They will operate in a designated ‘service zone’ and passengers can book a trip via website, phone or smartphone App.

  1. Corporate Transport

Organisations that have hundreds or thousands of employees are providing better transportation demand management (TDM) services to combat the environmental and societal effects of transport and subsequent congestion. Demand-Responsive bus services are becoming part of this mix of tactics. DRT allows organisations to provide low cost transport to their employees and remove the cost of parking infrastructure.

  1. Ridehail / Taxi

Taxi’s have been used for Demand-Responsive Transport services for some time now. Unfortunately it is one of the most expensive forms of DRT. Whilst approved passengers will have access to government subsidies to reduce their overall contribution to the cost of the trip, Running a low capacity fleet for individual trips has been proven expensive. Ridehail is very similar. Rather than pooling similar passenger journeys together, both ridehail and taxi service generally provide DRT services to a single passenger at a time.

  1. Dial-a-Ride

Dial-a ride is one of the earliest forms of DRT. Using rather outdated dispatch software, operators would take incoming phone call requests and add them to a fleet manifest. Generally operating without the support of complex routing algorithms to optimise fleet movement, operational efficiencies are hard to realise and excess driver miles would occur.

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Where does DRT fit (and how can it improve access to transport)?

DRT is providing Transit Agencies and Fleet Operators with a more convenient way for passengers to access their transport services. So naturally it fits into areas of the community that have been underserved with transportation options. 

Whether it be members of rural communities, or burgeoning suburbs without transit infrastructure. It’s allowing network planners to rethink how people access main corridors and expands their reach within sprawling or sparsely populated communities. 

By giving the passenger the power to designate where a pick up location should be, it allows them the convenience of access. It lets people connect with other mass transit options and increases the overall network use. 

As a result it also lowers the overall cost of servicing passengers across an entire network.

How does a Demand-Responsive Transport system work?

A Demand-Responsive Transport system works by aggregating passenger demand into clusters then dispatching vehicles to those locations. From there, once the system has allocated vehicles, complex routing and scheduling occurs and pick up and drop off times are calculated. All this without the need of human intervention. 

Traditional Fixed Route vs Demand-Responsive Transport

At the heart of a Demand-Responsive Transport operation is the routing and matching engine. This is a series of algorithms that calculate a route based on vehicle location, time, passenger origin & destination. This is how the system is able to function the way it does. Seamlessly taking multiple incoming requests, matching them to a vehicle then providing navigation support for the drivers to deliver passengers at their destination on time.

The difference between previous demand-responsive models and today's is the ability to package multiple services into one platform. Now the passenger, driver and operations team can easily access the one system and efficiently achieve what they need to:


  1. Pick up requested
  2. Passengers allocated to vehicles
  3. Reminder notification prior to pick up
  4. Driver arriver notification
  5. Drop off successful


  1. Pick up request accepted
  2. Navigation to pickup address
  3. Confirm Pick up
  4. Navigation to destination
  5. Confirm Drop off


  1. 360-degree view of Fleet Operations
  2. Passenger / driver support (if needed)
  3. Confirm bookings
  4. Confirm drop offs

Why are Operators and Transit Agencies moving to DRT?

In the case where fixed-route bus services are too expensive to run or lack the ability to service geographical areas well, Demand-Responsive Transport is flourishing. Fleet Operators and Transit Agencies are moving to Demand-Responsive Transport for the simple fact that it helps to improve their offering. 

Up until now, operators may have had multiple software platforms to run their fleet operations. With changes in technology it’s now possible to consolidate this cost and provide DRT, fixed-route, community transport and dial-a-ride services all from the one platform. Fleet Operators are realising this more and are making the change each day.

No doubt, fixed-route and mass transit options will always have their place, but Demand-Responsive Transport is giving passengers another option that is affordable and convenient. For Operators, It is providing another way to increase access points to a transit network and provide greater efficiency for feeder services of main corridor lines. 

It goes a long way to provide much needed equity in our transport networks and give people that do not want to burden the cost of private vehicle ownership an alternative and sustainable mode of transport. And especially now, as more of our population moves into the elderly bracket, it is providing those that choose to age-in-place or require assistance a convenient way to connect them to essential services.

Access to transport is a fundamental right for people in modern society. No more is this evident for those in rural communities.

Learn more from our CoastConnect case study—increasing patronage month-on-month and retaining loyal passengers on the Central Coast, NSW, Australia.

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.