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Paratransit

Subsidies per passenger – the £3 challenge

A recent audience question at a webinar outlined the extent of the challenge local transport faces in the UK:

Councils often use metrics as subsidy per passenger journey as a means of deciding value for money. In Kent, the figure is £3 and a number of routes are potentially to be withdrawn for exceeding this figure. Is DRT viable within such a limit?

Obviously, there’s no straightforward reply. The routes that fall to councils to fund are, by their nature, the ones that bus operators cannot make commercially viable. The question is, are they ‘a little unviable’ (meet the up to £3 / passenger journey threshold) or ‘very unviable’ (require more – and in some instances – much more subsidy).

In most cases the problem is dealing with the network in route by route way. A gradual process of removal of unprofitable bits (entire routes or service hours) erodes the remaining services and creates a constant downward spiral.

The move to look at networks as a whole in the context of Bus Service Improvement Plans and Enhanced Partnerships could potentially move the focus and put these routes in context. This would help evaluate whether a point to point route or an area based DRT service (potentially wrapping more than one lower utilisation route into a single operation) is a better approach.

Increase passengers

Wherever possible, we look – as broadly as possible – at passenger groups, vehicle numbers and  operators to determine the optimal service.

The questions we ask are ‘where can DRT drive up patronage, so that the per passenger subsidy goes down?’, ‘How can we reduce vehicle numbers to ensure that the fleet is efficient?’ and ‘How can we combine operators and services available to ensure that all capacity is utilised?’.

The first approach, driving up patronage, is most likely to work in densely populated areas. The ball-park estimate for DRT to be fully commercial is an average of 7-8 people per vehicle throughout the day. However, because it uses smaller vehicles, DRT doesn’t have the same capacity for higher loads and peak fares to cover off-peak times, so the vehicles have to be matched more closely to demand. In services at larger scales, we can use data to plan vehicle deployment and keep the utilisation rates as high as possible.

In addition, encouraging advance booking really helps with both increasing passenger numbers and operational planning. Pre-booking means people can plan their days in advance and depend on the service. The information from pre-bookings ensure that the operator has good information ahead of the start of each day. We see around 75% of passengers booking in advance, which validates our expectation that people use this as reliable public transport rather than a taxi equivalent.

Segmented, not fragmented

The second is to drive down costs per person by ensuring that the services provide transport to people from different groups and with different travel needs. This is considering passengers as segments of the travelling public, rather than as fragmented groups.

In most cases this requires an honest look at services and identifying where they are siloed. For instance we’ve seen several cases of Ring & Ride access services being operated in parallel with DDRT services because different funding streams procure different resources, and the services don’t speak to each other.

Back during Total Transport pilots, over capacity was identified by authorities and there was a huge desire to maximise utilisation of vehicles. Whilst there was some success in reducing requirements it proved difficult to execute sophisticated ideas about fleet optimisation or combining use cases and we still saw costs per passenger trip of over £20 in some cases.

However, the capability of the technology has come a long way in the last 3 years. The Padam Mobility platform is able to combine multiple operators into a single service. Our sophisticated software means we can also merge different use cases with one service.  It also offers a paratransit software element in order to handle social service and health care transport, providing the right vehicle for the trips needed and optimising the overall fleet management. This can radically cut the subsidy required. We now have use cases in which we blend dial-a-ride, DRT and other forms of transport to reduce the overall spend for Local Authorities.

In one area we combine DRT with home to school transport using the same vehicles. This reduces the the cost of the home-to-school from around £10 per head down to £5. Adding in further deployments which increases the utilisation could lower this further. In Strasbourg, we blend door to door ‘paratransit’ with bus stop to bus stop DRT, using the same fleet. We are now in advanced discussions with one UK authority to launch a similar service this year.

There has also been a reluctance to register some commuter shuttle style DRT – often serving previously unserved business parks and out of town distribution centres – as part of the wider public transport network. Whilst this imposes additional constraints on the service provider, Enhanced Partnerships are an opportunity to work out how to make the broadening of registration worthwhile in order to increase the numbers of people served. Bringing these services into wider use through integration onto a publicly managed DRT platform could improve services relatively cheaply.

Optimise multi-operator services

It’s increasingly worthwhile to look at how DDRT platform technologies – such as Padam Mobility – can host efficient cross contract services. A sophisticated DRT platform can manage a service supplied by community transport or even taxis at some times of day whilst moving to a bus operator on a fixed time table at others. Padam Mobility has combined multiple operators in this way for the Île-de-France Mobilités service that connects people who live on the outer edges of suburbs beyond the Paris metropolitan area. We observe instances where the work of 20 minibuses can now be done by 12, which obviously implies significant savings.

So whilst it’s difficult to bring costs per passenger journey right down in isolation, we’ve found that a holistic approach will bear dividends.

In the current climate, as local authorities and operators work on networks together, there is the possibility to drive down per passenger subsidies to within the £3 limit – whilst still improving services and increasing the number of people who have the option to take the bus.

 

This article might also interest you: Integrating DDRT into BSIPS – Six Practical Tips 

Learn more about Padam Mobility 

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Public transport demand and the built environment

buslondon
Beate Kubitz
Guest article by Beate Kubitz.

Beate Kubitz is a real insider of the transport sector. As an independent consultant and publicist on topics related to mobility and innovation, she is always on top of the latest facts when it comes to explaining the impact of new forms of mobility on society and politics.

 

 

Public transport demand is deeply linked to the availability of public transport. Where the network is poor and infrequent – often in rural and periurban areas – car ownership rises. In a vicious cycle, the increase in car use further reduces demand for public transport and makes services less viable.

What is less recognised is that this has an effect on both those areas with poor public transport, (the origins of most journeys) and their destinations – which are often in urban centres.

Dropping demand, falling funding

Public transport in the UK faces a difficult future. Against a background of steady decline as the UK gradually turned to private car travel, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp drop-off in ridership. The Bus Recovery Grant, intended to shore up the market, looks likely to be withdrawn before passenger numbers have fully recovered.

The issues facing public transport, while exacerbated by the pandemic, have been in the making for some time. For buses, deregulation has caused, or at the very least coincided with, a steady decline in usage. The focus on profitability has also meant that operators have pared their routes to those that are commercially viable, on busy corridors. It has become increasingly difficult for local authorities to maintain ‘socially important’ services connecting communities lying off these corridors.

Since 1986, local authorities outside London have been unable to set service routes and frequencies, or subsidise fares. The final say on where and how they will be delivered rests mainly in the hands of commercial operators. Local authorities have also suffered cuts to funding, meaning they cannot commission bus services to augment commercially viable routes.

This removal of control from local authorities has resulted in transport networks with patchy coverage in many areas, missed connections between transport networks, and long waiting times between services. It is not difficult to find examples of local journeys to key destinations which take two or three times as long by public transport.

Among the other factors affecting the uptake of public transport, are information and cost. On the positive side, the Bus Open Data Service is slowly opening access to timetable and fare information so that digital journey planners work effectively.

However, bus fares have risen at a rate far above inflation. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics in 2021 found bus fares were six times more expensive than they were in 1987. Attempts by authorities outside London to introduce integrated ticketing, emulating London’s Oyster card, have met with difficulties.

A further issue is the failure to integrate transport into new housing developments. A damning 2022 report by the campaign group Transport for New Homes examined 20 new-build estates, and found that the majority were planned in a way that “locked in” private car use. This in turn had an impact on the quality of housing, as more space had to be given over to parking.

Policy and practice are not strong in this area. The misallocation of funding obtained from developers as part of the planning process – and the granting of planning permission on the assumption that better public transport would somehow follow development – have been cited as causes of this type of car-centric development. The National Policy and Planning Framework cautions against applying maximum parking limits to new developments, despite the success of low and zero car development.

Coordinating transport policy, planning policy and funding

In order to address the issues, there needs to be a step change in funding and policy.

First, public transport needs to be brought closer to more homes and destinations. In cities that have data on access to public transport, such as London and Manchester, higher accessibility correlates strongly with lower car ownership.

An important element to explore is how demand responsive transport (DRT) can be used to improve accessibility or network coverage. Whilst ‘dial-a-ride’ DRT schemes have been around for a while, more sophisticated platform-based DRT enables on-demand services to be accessible as part of the public transport network.

Active travel improvements can also play a role, by creating safer, more direct walking and cycling routes, with secure bike parking and e-bike charging at transport interchanges.

Local authorities need powers and funding to deliver improvements to public transport. Devolved powers in relation to transport should be increased. The obstacles to introducing bus franchising and enhanced partnerships should be removed, as there is no other way to ensure reasonable levels of service or integration with other transport networks. Areas that have already become “transport deserts” should be provided with DRT services that replicate the convenience of a good fixed route bus service.

The present funding landscape for public transport and active travel is full of potential stumbling blocks. For instance, methods of assessing benefit to cost ratios for public transport schemes are urgently in need of reform. Rapid transit networks are required to show unreasonably high BCRs, often based on pessimistic assumptions of future passenger numbers. The Borders Railway in Scotland was built in spite of estimates of just 30,000 then 650,000 passengers per year. The reality, in its first year of operation, was over a million.

Government tools such as WebTAG do not correctly value active travel, prioritising free movement of private vehicle traffic over convenient local journeys on bike and by foot. AMAT, the assessment tool for active travel schemes, is designed to favour schemes that can already show a high proportion of active travel users, which can increase transport inequality. As nearly all public transport journeys contain an element of active travel, defects with these assessment tools penalise public transport too.

Finally, planning regulations should be reassessed in light of the urgent need to decarbonise transport. This means that connectivity of new developments to existing transport networks should be ensured from the outset (rather than being left to be put in at a future date). More S.106 and CIL funding should be used for improvement and development of local transport services. Resources should also be allocated to “retro-fit” poorly connected existing developments, using DRT to ensure people can access frequent fixed route public transport easily.

We need a public transport network that reaches close to people’s homes and their ultimate destinations. This will require changes to transport policy and funding, and the exploitation of new innovations and proven methods to reduce car ownership. With less need for private vehicles, public transport will function better, and we will be able to use land for housing people rather than cars.

 

Find out more about Padam Mobility 

This article might interest you as well: Using Data Science to Increase the Success of Your DRT Scheme

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How does Demand Responsive Transport help to reduce one’s mental load?

Mental load

Connecting people and making it easier for everyone to commute are the objectives of Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) proposed by Padam Mobility. To this extent, this mobility solution can alleviate the daily tasks that make up the mental workload. According to Nicole Brais, a researcher at the University of Laval, Quebec, the mental load corresponds to “management, organisation and planning work that is at once intangible, unavoidable and constant in order to manage domestic tasks. Thus, a real impact on daily life lies in the constancy of this burden.

The mental load falls mainly on women 

Women spend an average of almost 4 hours a day managing domestic tasks, and handle 71% of parental tasks in the household. These tasks can be directly linked to transportation: doing groceries, dropping off and picking up children at/from school, and all the small tasks of daily life.

DRT represents a simple and effective solution to reduce the weight of these daily tasks. On the occasion of an experimentation of the La Saire TAD service in the Cotentin, a parent told us:

I think I can speak for all the mothers in the room who no longer need to drop off  their children at school, you have changed our lives in La Saire!”

People with Reduced Mobility also face an increased mental load in their daily lives

In a world that sometimes seems to be designed by and for able-bodied people, finding suitable modes of transport can be particularly difficult for people with reduced mobility.

It is therefore important to take into account the specific needs of PRMs with, for instance, a door-to-door transport service that takes into account the time it requires to settle into adapted vehicles and the presence of specific equipment, if necessary. In addition, the accessibility of the transport offer involves the right to movement, and therefore to spontaneous movement. Getting to the city without having to plan one’s journey weeks in advance is undeniably a factor in alleviating the mental load for the PRM public.

The Paratransit solutions developed by Padam Mobility can be booked in real time or in advance, in order to satisfy the desire and need for spontaneity in everyday life. They are configured to take care of each user according to the specificities of their mobility and allow for flexible travel from address to address.

Solutions that respond to the problems of the 11 million caregivers in France, and in the world. 

Caregivers provide day-to-day support to a dependent relative. These situations often require constant travelling between health centres, the homes of the carers and the homes of their dependent relatives, for instance (as presented in this article). This context can lead to reliance on private means of travel, particularly in peri-urban and rural areas where fixed lignes are more limited.

Padam Mobility’s solutions allow a caregiver to make a booking and the caregiver can even receive specific notifications regarding the pick-up of their relative.  These configurations facilitate the daily organisation of caregivers by involving them intuitively in the movement of their dependent relatives.

In rural and peri-urban areas, a mental charge is hidden in the day-to-day travel needs of all

Inequality of access to city centres, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas, creates mental burdens for all types of population: young people without a car, parents who have to drop off their relatives and children, and elderly people who fear driving alone private vehicles. All these constraints create anxiety and an insidious mental workload. A mental pressure that DRT sometimes helps to reduce, as a high school student using the Résa’Tao DRT service in Orléans explained to us:

At least (my parents) are not worried because they know that if I have a problem, I always have Résa’Tao”. 

What about the driver’s mental load?

Commuting, including home-to-work mobility, is a mobility in which the mental load is hardly ever mentioned. However, mental workload and driving are directly linked, as the latter impacts on drivers’ concentration and increases risky driving behaviour. Driving and its constraints add to the already existing mental load. Academic studies have been conducted to scientifically measure the mental load of driving and how to limit it.

Artificial intelligence, which enables the optimisation of rides, plays a crucial role in easing the mental burden on professional drivers of DRT vehicles. Indeed, through an ergonomic interface, drivers are guided step by step and no longer have to worry about the route to follow or the passengers to pick up or drop off. For passengers, formerly car drivers, DRT also makes their daily lives easier by freeing them from the hassles frequently encountered on the road: congestion, accidents, parking, refuelling, etc. 

 

About Padam Mobility 

Check out this article: Loi LOM : ce qui change pour les personnes à mobilité réduite 

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Uses and Limits of Paratransit Services: A comparative Study between France and Germany

Etude TPMR

Since the founding of Padam Mobility in 2014, our ambition has been to provide mobility services accessible to all, especially to people who do not have a wide range of choices available to them or who rely on outside assistance to be mobile.

We try to develop and design software components and features in such a way that they support people with limited or reduced mobility (PRM) as best as possible on their everyday journeys. For example, by being able to specify special aids, such as a wheelchair, automatically when booking a ride, or by making door-to-door bookings possible.

This summer, we wanted to find out more and therefore asked a number of people for their personal opinion. This yielded very interesting and insightful answers from a total of 48 different people in two of our main markets: France (F) and Germany (G). Most of these people (97.1% F; 84.6% G) are themselves affected by reduced mobility, others (2.9% F; 7.7% G) are involved in this issue in a professional context or are related to a person with reduced mobility (7.7% G).

The survey

The survey was conducted online between May and July in France and between June and August in Germany. Participants were recruited in a similar way. We contacted associations representing people with disabilities, dedicated Facebook groups and online platforms, and approached individuals from our private circle. The questionnaires were filled out online and anonymously.

The respondents

Most of the participants, both in France and in Germany, were between 25 and 49 years old (47.1% F; 50% G). It is noticeable that, especially in France, many people had no job or were househusbands/housewives (38.2%). In Germany, half of all respondents (50%) were in permanent employment, while 35.7% were already retired. Especially people who are no longer firmly integrated into working life, often have a hard time staying connected if they do not have an intact social environment. Suitable mobility solutions are an important component in this context that helps them to overcome the barrier of participating more actively in life.

However, the mere availability of public transport is often not sufficient. Most of the respondents have physical disabilities (85.3% F; 76, 9% G). Travelling by means of public transport is therefore often challenging. Lack of boarding aids or non-accessible infrastructure can turn journeys that are not a big deal for “non-impaired people” into a real challenge.

The spatial distribution of respondents is also interesting. In France, 41.2% of all respondents said they lived in a city with 100,000+ inhabitants (another 23.5% lived only about 20 kilometres from a city of this size). In Germany, the picture is similar, with 45.5% saying they live in a city of 100,000+, while 36.4% live 50 or more kilometres from a city of this size. This is a very interesting situation for the evaluation. Although it is not possible to determine which answer came from which participant, it is possible to deduce from the other statements whether certain conditions are clearly polarised, i.e. whether they are different in large cities and in rural areas, or whether the two areas are similar to each other.

Use of technology

As a software provider and, in particular, a manufacturer of user software, it was of course very important for us to find out how confident the respondents are in using a smartphone. Rides with our services can be booked via three different channels: Booking website, user app and via a call centre. Making these booking channels accessible and constantly improving them is one of our main concerns. Since we will return later in the questionnaire to the question of which technical aids our participants consider useful and which features they still miss, it is of great value that almost everyone among the respondents is familiar with the use of a smartphone (97.1 % F; 92.9 % G). 

Mobility behaviour

We tried to find out more about the reasons why respondents are mostly on the move in everyday life. The most frequent answers in this respect in France were administrative appointments, doctor’s visits, etc. (76.5 %) and general shopping (79.4 %), while in Germany most respondents said they were visiting friends and family (84.6%) or pursuing leisure activities (76.9%). It is interesting to note that in the context of this survey, mobility is particularly associated with everyday leisure activities, lesser with e.g. commuting or tourism. This is an important sign that public transport, especially in rural areas, should not concentrate too much on school and work transport; people should also be given the opportunity to easily get from A to B flexibly during off-peak times.

Accompaniment of paratransit users

For people who are dependent on assistance for a variety of reasons, especially when travelling, it is important to ensure that this assistance is provided. We firmly believe that technical solutions can also help simplify processes of, for example, declaring accompanying persons, so that, for example, a person can be taken along free of charge with ease. We, therefore, wanted to know from the participants of our questionnaire what their habits are regarding “accompanied travelling”. Are they being accompanied? If so, how often? And are there any aspects that could be improved?

The answers revealed that professional help, such as caregivers, is rarely used and that in both France (70%) and Germany (48.9%), most people in need of assistance are accompanied by people they trust, family members or friends.

The choice of transport

The fact that in our survey most people with reduced mobility are not accompanied by professional assistants is of course also related to the choice of transport. Specialised paratransit services are rarely used in both countries. Among all respondents, only 5% of the respondents in France stated that they used paratransit services, compared to 21.43% in Germany. These figures are striking, as the number of those who need special equipment on their rides, such as a wheelchair, is rather high (55.9% F; 57.14% G).

Many of the respondents prefer to resort to their own car, whether specially adapted to their disability or not. With regard to generally available public transport, individuals stated that “public transport and trains are not acceptable for a wheelchair user”. Accessibility also ranked high for other people who used the free text fields to give personal opinions.

Another important point is the issue of “independence” and “offer”. A rather patchy offer, no planning security, etc. makes it difficult for the respondents to do without their individual car:

“The car can be used individually

“You are more spontaneous than with public transport”

“[The car] is the fastest and most flexible

“Because we are more independent with the car (we used to take the train more often in the past)”

Others, in turn, spoke in favour of public transport and explained why they did not use a dedicated paratransit service as follows:

“Public transportation is more convenient than calling an adapted transportation which you have to book a day or more in advance depending on the city”

“You have to plan a trip in advance

“Constraining schedules, high costs”

“They ask you to book the services at least 48 hours in advance“.

Spontaneity, flexibility and ease of use, for example, are attributes that tend to be ascribed to the private car and were mentioned remarkably often. If transport services for PRM become similarly easy to use, and if it is ensured that the required equipment can be taken along without any problems, or if availability is generally enhanced, this will be major steps towards offering PRM a similarly comfortable experience with on-demand transport as people without constraints can enjoy.

Expectations on paratransit service

Although most of the participants do not use paratransit services, they still have a lot of expectations about how to improve them. Here are the most important demands at a glance:

1) Being able to book a ride in real-time

2) A better-equipped fleet 

3) A better overall service offer

4) Better connection with other existing transport services, including non-disabled transport services

5) Improved booking interfaces and passenger information 

Expectations on digital tools

A concern of ours is to closely examine the technical tools that paratransit users have at their disposal or which they still lack. In the questionnaire, we, therefore, asked what expectations Paratransit users have regarding digital features. The most frequently mentioned answers are listed below:

1) Information about the trip in advance and in real-time

2) Possibility to contact the driver directly

3) Information on the accessibility of public places near the itinerary 

4) Having the possibility to rate, comment on the service and consult other users’ comments

Summary

Mobility is a basic need of all people, which, in a well-functioning society, should be made available to everyone in the best possible way. However, PRMs experience difficulties. From non-accessible vehicles to non-adapted digital tools, stumbling blocks lurk in many places and can significantly limit the user experience. This can reach the point where PRMs stop relying on transport services entirely, preferring to use an individual vehicle whenever possible.

A particularly common complaint has been that paratransit services often have to be booked well in advance, making it impossible to go on spontaneous trips. In terms of technology, the provision of real-time information is still lacking. Indeed, nothing is more unsettling than having to wait significantly longer than indicated for the vehicle to arrive.

Of course, due to the heterogeneity of our respondents, especially with regard to their place of residence, it is not possible to give specific tips for certain areas. However, the expressed dissatisfaction among the participants shows that there is room for improvement. 

At Padam Mobility, we offer consultations and simulations for such purposes, which facilitate decision-making on a wide range of resource deployments. In this way, and by working closely with the people concerned, we can gradually make it possible to provide mobility services and technical features that make a real difference to PRMs.

 

 

This article might also interest you: Accessibility – How barrier-free is Public Transport in the UK?

Click here to find out more about Padam Mobility

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