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Linking people to places – how on-demand transport joins up the bus network

Tackling the lack of access to transport for people living in peri-urban areas is an important transport challenge, not only as a matter of equity but also because their car-dependency threatens urban transport provision.

One of the suggested tools for network improvement (with the potential for cost-effective service development) was on-demand buses. And, analysis suggests, the greater part of Bus Service Improvement Plans and Enhanced Partnerships do indeed place at least some reliance on demand responsive bus services.

However, to date, the UK experience of dynamic demand responsive transport (also known as DDRT and DRT)  has been ‘patchy’ at best. Trial services have been launched amid fanfares and then been quietly withdrawn (with the occasional messy implosion). Whilst ‘fitting demand to vehicles’ sounds like an efficiency no-brainer, the reality of doing this within an already limited bus network has not provided fantastic returns. Does this meant that DDRT is doomed?

The example of Orléans

In France, the city of Orléans has been piloting DRT since 2018. Rather than the stop start approach we have seen in the UK, this has involved a gradual increase in size and scale over the last 4 years.

The initial pilot in 2018 converted a legacy ‘dial-a-ride’ style system to a modern DDRT platform run by Padam Mobility. The previous scheme had been complicated to book, with strict advance booking deadlines and little real time information about the bus arrival times.  The April 2018 pilot covered an area of north east Orléans, which piloted DRT bookable via app or call centre, with the back office systems and data analysis ensuring that the service was efficiently run and monitored. Real-time bus information enabled users to book transport at short notice, and uptake of the app increased, enabling call centres to give a better service to passengers booking by phone.

As the technology was proven, the areas served were expanded. Firstly in September 2019 it was expanded to 9 areas which almost encircled the city, and then again in 2021 the areas were adjusted to cover a population of over 95,000 people and an area of 161 km2. The service comprised 19 vehicles that offered connections within the areas and to rapid transit nodes, allowing people to travel into central Orleans from 6.00 am to 9.00 pm.

A further expansion brought the area covered up to 300km2 and the population to 175,000. The number of vehicles was doubled to 40.

Whilst the service area and population was not quite doubled, the numbers of people travelling per week almost tripled from 2,900 to 8,500. Padam claims that 33% of its passengers have switched from private cars, while 19% had no access to transport.

The city authorities, having committed to ensuring that people have access to public transport even in the outskirts of the city, were seeing the costs per person travelling falling satisfactorily. More people were travelling without requiring additional subsidy.

A role model for the UK?

It’s instructive to compare the layout of a city like Orléans (pop. 116,000) with UK towns and cities. Oxford (pop. 150,000) has similar settlement patterns, with a densely-populated centre and good local and national transport links, but poorly-served outlying communities with infrequent public transport connections.

Bolton (pop. 194,000) is part of the Greater Manchester area and there are significant numbers of residents who commute to Manchester for work and leisure. As with Orléans, public transport provides connections to a tram system and national networks. Yet despite falling within the Transport for Greater Manchester area, there are many parts of Bolton which are virtual public transport deserts. A DRT system would offer alternative transport options for these areas and reduce the pressure on Manchester’s road networks caused by car commutes.

French authorities have the advantage in that they are able to oversee the network and make decisions about which areas are better served by DRT and which by fixed lines, tram and train. However, Enhanced Partnerships and Franchising mean that we have the opportunity to change the way we do things. Whilst the corridor model and peak time reliance have served profitability, we can now look at how to connect those who live off the corridors to the network using the full panoply of available services and technology.

 

Article by mobility expert and consultant Beate Kubitz. Visit her website by clicking here.

This article might interest you as well: Launching DRT – An operator perspective 

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Launching DRT – An operator perspective

hertslynx

HertsLynx is a new DRT service launched in September 2021 with three buses covering villages in the rural area surrounding the market town of Buntingford in Hertford. The HertsLynx zone extends between 7 and 9 miles in each direction from the town, serving a total area of around 150 miles² / 400km². The service is operated by Uno Bus, which runs fixed route buses across Hertfordshire. It is the first DRT service Uno Bus has run.

With just over 6 months in operation, patterns are beginning to emerge. Although in-depth data analysis is just beginning, we were able to catch up with Ed Cameron, Commercial Manager at Uno Bus to find out things were going.

It’s a remote and sparsely populated area, and some of the villages covered consist of only 30-40 houses, so there’s no sustainable way to run a fixed line route.”

Getting new people onto buses

There have been few surprises, as the usage patterns have followed expectations that people want to travel between villages and the towns or to get to and from stations. There’s been an acceleration of use by students though:

We also pick up quite a number of school and college students. There is a big college in the north of Buntingford. The service launched after the start of term and it took a month for a couple of students to start using it. Then it grew and we’re seeing 10-12 daily. These are students that might have had to get a lift to school previously.”

Not just a taxi

DRT is an interesting product. There are just three buses at the moment covering a big geographical area. The challenge is to maximise the number of people getting the bus together so that it’s not just a taxi service. What we’re starting to find is that there are 2, 3, 4 and 5 people getting the bus together. This is sometimes people coordinating trips but also it’s down to the system prompting people. So, for example, if someone is asking to book a trip at 2 pm and there’s someone else travelling at 2.15 pm the system will suggest that journey. This is where DRT has the opportunity to grow. We also see it if someone is making a long trip, the system will map the route to pick up and set down other people along the way.

The other pattern is that, over the last couple of months, more people are booking 3-4 weeks in advance. Ed Cameron sees this as part of a learning curve the passengers have been on, as regular passengers realise that they can be sure to get to college or catch their train if they book in advance.

A lot of people had no idea of what DRT was when it started. We ran a lot of road shows but it’s quite hard to explain that it’s both like a taxi but also not as bespoke and like a bus but not quite. I have passengers asking why they have to stand on different sides of the road one day to the next. I have to explain that it depends on the bus’s previous route. However, once they’ve used it a few times people get the hang of it quite quickly and I think that’s why they book in advance, and also why the buses are fuller.”

What’s next?

The RMF funding is for 4 years, and includes growth from 3 to 5 buses planned for September 2022. According to Ed, demand for the service continues to grow:

We found DRT works really well in this kind of remote area where bus services are not sustainable, and also for the last mile between train stations and homes a couple of miles away. We see this as a potential opportunity.”

The HertsLynx service has proven successful. County-wide, DRT will grow rapidly and by January 2023 Hertfordshire will have over 20 DRT vehicles in operation.

Key facts

• HertsLynx is designed to serve residents in the designated operating zone covering villages in North and East Herts, as well as providing transport links to fixed destinations in Key Hub Towns: Stevenage,
Letchworth, Hitchin, Baldock, Royston and Bishop’s Stortford.
• Passengers can use HertsLynx for travel anywhere in the Free-Floating Operator Zone. There are no fixed routes on this service, instead passengers can be picked up and dropped off at a vast number of stops within the zone. They are also able to travel from the Free-Floating Operator Zone to designated locations in the Key Hub Towns. Travel is permitted between Key Hub Towns but is not available for journeys between points within one Key Hub Town.
• HertsLynx launched with three 13 seater minibuses plus one space for wheelchair user. New zones and types of DRT, with additional buses, are planned for May and September 2022. The service operates 7 am – 7 pm Mondays to Saturdays and 10 am to 4 pm on Sundays and Public
Holidays. Journeys can be booked in real-time or in advance for future journeys.
Fares are based on distance travelled, from £2 (up to 2 miles) to £5 for over 10 miles. Concessionary pass holders travel for free and Saver Card holders for half fare and HertsLynx runs as a cashless service.
• The service was funded by the Rural Mobility Fund of the Department for Transport.
• The operator is Uno Bus, using the Padam Mobility DRT platform.

Click here to visit the service’s website

 

This article might interest you: With HertLynx, Padam Mobility continues its expansion in the UK 

Find out more about Padam Mobility 

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Hacon and Padam Mobility launch their first joint on-demand project “SALÜ” in Switzerland

salu app
  • New on-demand service for BUS Ostschweiz AG
  • Technical implementation of the SALÜ app by Hacon and Padam Mobility
  • Already the fifth implemented project for on-demand transport in the DACH region for the Siemens Mobility subsidiary with a total of over two million rides booked

SALÜ, an on-demand service offered by Swiss transport operator BUS Ostschweiz AG, was launched in March for the city of Wil. Users have access to a Web App, and IOS and Android apps to obtain information and book the service. Padam Mobility and Hacon were responsible for the technical implementation. SALÜ is already the fifth on-demand transport project implemented by the two Siemens subsidiaries in the DACH region within just a few months.

On the one hand, the new offering provides residents in Wil, Wilen, Bronschhofen and Rossrüti with a flexible shuttle service in the evening from 8 p.m. to and from the train station that fits in with the train schedule. On the other, a selection of more than 100 virtual stops across the city, from or to which rides can be booked, is available. Users can find, book and pay directly for their chosen ride in the SALÜ app. As with the previously used Wil evening taxi, a public transport ticket is needed as the basis for calculating a surcharge for the service.

Andreas Deterling, Head of Supply and Development BUS Ostschweiz AG:

SALÜ significantly improves the appeal of public transport in the city of Wil. Our service combines convenience and sustainability – the app calculates which passengers can board when and where, and determines the fastest connections.”

Gerd Overbeck, Lead New Mobility at Hacon, sees on-demand transport as a useful supplement to local public transport:

On-demand transport best supports existing public transport services when the transfer from one means of transport to the other runs smoothly. That’s why we are relying with our partner Padam Mobility on convenient to use mobility apps which, in the best sense of the plan, book, pay & travel approach, make using on-demand transport as easy as possible.”

Padam Mobility and Hacon successful in the DACH market with other on-demand projects

In addition to the new on-demand service “SALÜ” in Switzerland, Padam Mobility and Hacon are further expanding their market position. In the past few months, the companies have launched on-demand services in three German regions: In Höxter, the on-demand service “Holibri” drives on four routes; in Hürth near Cologne, “Hüpper” serves the fringe districts that previously only had insufficient access to public transport; and the “Expressbus Pfaffenhofen” app allows users to travel around individually across the city. Throughout Germany, DB Regio AG is also relying on the expertise of Padam Mobility and Hacon with its on-demand service integrated into its own travel information system. Annually, that means a total of more than two million rides that are booked using the software from Padam Mobility.

More projects will be added in the coming months, for example, in the Ingolstadt region. The experience gained and the feedback from passengers clearly show that on-demand mobility can be a very important element in providing regional mobility. In particular in rural and fringe areas, the solutions from Padam Mobility and Hacon offer real added value, and provide residents with seamless transport without needing to have their own car. They also allow cities or municipalities to provide their public transport services more efficiently and in a more resource-saving manner.

 

About Padam Mobility and Hacon

Under the heading “Combined Power for Mobility,” Siemens Mobility, Hacon, eos.uptrade, Bytemark, Padam Mobility and Sqills offer a unique ecosystem of digital services and solutions. From travel planning, passenger communication, mobile ticketing, payment and reservation, and mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions to fleet management, schedule preparation and mobility data analytics – a comprehensive product portfolio for the complex issues in the mobility sector offers the ideal foundation for an outstanding passenger experience.

Learn more about Hacon

Click here to visit the Padam Mobility website

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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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Integrating DDRT into BSIPS – Six practical tips

london bus

With the funding announcement for BSIPs due in the next few weeks, we look at how dynamic, demand-responsive transport services can improve local transport for people, especially in rural and peri-urban areas.

Recently Jack Holland set out key insights and practical tips on how to succeed in implementing a dynamic on-demand system at a Transport Smart Class in Nottingham.

Jacks smart class presentation

Tip 1. Use Data to undertake a deep analysis and test your service

Padam Mobility’s pre-service deployment simulations are critical tools for designing your DDRT service. We help you answer:

  • When and where is demand particularly high?
  • How many passengers will be transported at different times?
  • What is the right service area? 

These questions help develop your service model and minimize potential risk. Our partnership with Prospective Labs also helps analyze the use of existing infrastructure in greater detail, and identify gaps in the network area.

There’s more about this topic and the partnership between Prospective Labs and Padam Mobility in our webinar „Using data science to increase the success of your DRT scheme“.

Tip 2. Determine the right service configuration

There are several configurations of DDRT that can meet different needs and improve the transport network.

For example, if there are a lot of gaps in the fixed line bus network (for instance in a more rural area)  a free-floating service may be the best choice to serve the demand.

Alternatively, where there are some important central locations, such as a train station, a hospital, a shopping centre, etc., it may make sense to set up a DDRT service in a ‘fixed route’ model, connecting people with key nodes based on demand.

Another potential deployment is as a feeder service that, for example, serves a zone connecting people within it to the nearest fixed route bus stop, train or tram station and thus ‘feeds’ the structural network.

Tip 3. Ensure advanced bookings are guaranteed

A key component in gaining the trust and satisfaction of customers is not only enabling bookings in advance but also ensuring they are guaranteed.

Padam Mobility’s algorithms guarantee a seat in a vehicle at the desired time by allocating a seat when the booking is made. Guaranteeing bookings in this way is a core feature that is ingrained into the foundations of the Padam Mobility system. This is different from most providers of on-demand services, who store bookings made in advance on a waiting list and thus can only provide customers with an approximate estimated time of arrival (ETA) window.

This feature is essential for a successful DRT service, as people need to know that they can rely on the service, allowing them to plan their daily schedules.

Usage data shows that advance bookings are extremely important to on-demand services. 75 % of all bookings via Padam Mobility solutions are made in advance. The remaining trip searches, for services in real-time, are only shown potential trips that have not been booked. This system fulfills all requirements equally and makes on-demand transport attractive for different types of users.

Tip 4. Offer a variety of booking methods

The choice of booking methods is key to making DDRT fully accessible to all types of users of all ages.

Users have the option of choosing between booking via mobile app, a booking website or a call centre. This flexibility eliminates the hurdle of making a booking, especially for users who cannot or do not want to use a smartphone. 

Padam Mobility offers all three booking components as modules, so operators can create their own service package. 

Tip 5. A clear and comprehensive marketing strategy

A marketing campaign for new DDRT services is essential, ideally starting before the launch of the service. Without (sufficient) advertising for the DDRT service, there is a high risk that not enough people will become aware of it and thus not enough users will be generated.

It’s important to integrate all the channels at the operator’s disposal. In particular, social media – including Twitter accounts and Facebook pages for the operator and any local area information service – are useful for monitoring the reception and use of the services. Targeted advertising on social media is also useful to reach different audiences with targeted messages.

Press work with local newspapers can also increase the visibility of services. It’s important to tailor information to the user groups and to convey positive messages about the benefits of the service (e.g. “DRT makes you independent from the parent taxi”) as well as providing basic information (e.g. “How does booking work?”). More generally, the entire area served should be included in the PR; besides newspaper announcements, flyers in residents’ letterboxes or billboards in central locations can also yield results.

In areas with fewer inhabitants, where news is often transmitted via the “grapevine”, it is important to involve people who have a large reach, for example, politicians or other public officials.

The principle of “recruitment” also works well. It is possible to provide passengers with promotional codes, which they can then pass on to friends and family members.

The opportunities to promote the service are numerous. Operators should consider in advance which channels and partners they can work with to achieve the greatest possible reach.

Tip 6. Think multimodal

A good public transport network is never one-dimensional. Transport managers should always ask themselves how different forms of shared mobility can interact in such a way that they complement each other and offer people transport options that fit their needs as closely as possible.

In concrete terms, this can mean that a DRT service can only be booked at certain times to certain destinations while pointing people to the structural network at other times. Or that fare and payment structures are aligned so that people can switch to different modes of transport using the same ticket.

The goal should always be to make mobility as seamless and accessible as possible to give people a good alternative to the private car.

 

jacks presentation

You can find Jack Holland’s presentation in full under this link. To access it, please first register on the smart classes website. All information can be found by clicking the link.

You can also contact Jack directly by E-Mail.

 Learn more about Padam Mobility.

 

 

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Padam Mobility Masterclass Series – #3 Scaling DRT – Using a flexible demand platform and a flexible vehicle supply model to grow patronage efficiently

Landor Links #3 Title

This Masterclass, on scaling, was the third in a three-part series of expert discussions covering the details of successful implementation of Demand Responsive Transport systems. The Padam Mobility Masterclass series was run in cooperation with Landor Links.

In the final edition, Asiya Jelani, Account Director at TRL and Women in Transport Board Member spoke with Daniel Mould, Managing Director at WeDRT and Jack

Landor Links #3

 Holland, Head of Business Development at Padam Mobility about how DRT services can be effectively introduced and scaled to achieve optimal coverage and economic viability.

What is scaling?

Scaling is essentially matching the number of vehicles to demand efficiently, as your DRT service grows. It’s possible to predict that services will grow from the outset with modelling. However, Jack Holland explained that it can also be planned once a service is in operation:

Scaling is not a gut feeling decision, but is carefully planned and decided during the run phase of a DRT service based on specific KPIs. This might relate to user numbers or pooling rates (the number of passengers on the bus at the same time) in a particular area, for example. If the available vehicles are constantly at capacity, this may be an indication that demand is not being served well enough and that potential users are unable to find a free vehicle at their desired time. These observations provide initial indications that an on-demand service needs to be adapted.”

As DRT can be configured to fit into local transport networks, it can be used to grow the overall ridership. Jack Holland again:

Efficient scaling depends primarily on the local conditions in which a DRT service operates. A service is only optimally used if it fits seamlessly into the structural transport network, i.e. if it brings passengers to major public transport hubs. In this context, the procurement of the DRT software plays a crucial role. On-demand services, which act as a complement to the scheduled network, can be configured in such a way that users are pointed to scheduled transport options in the app at certain times rather than booking a DRT vehicle for the desired trip.”

The ability to flex the fleet is also key. The WeDRT platform enables services to access properly registered and accredited fleet when services need more vehicles to meet demand. This is also useful when piloting the service or to test the market for additional areas or times of day when building ridership.

What about financing?

The expansion of transport services is generally assumed to imply an increase in costs, which means financing is a key concern. How can it be possible for an on-demand service to be economically viable? For Jack, this question needs to be tackled more holistically:

We live in a deregulated mindset but we need to look holistically at where we spend money on transport and how we can cross-subsidise different modes so that the overall cost is reduced for the local authority. That is how you make DRT viable in the UK. It is looking at these different subsidy pots, be it home to school, be it dial-a-ride, even be it corporate shuttles and how you can blend these different models.” 

However, regardless of external funding measures, it can also be possible to deploy a transport service in a way that is both demand-responsive and resource-efficient

Dan Mould:

Technical possibilities, such as well-deployed DRT software, help transport companies to use their fleet much more effectively. Intelligent pooling allows for better utilisation of vehicles, which means that in many cases the total fleet can be significantly reduced, which in turn saves costs.”

Jack added:

While it is currently almost impossible to offer a profitable on-demand service, it is certainly possible to set the parameters in a way that lowers expenses. At around 8 passengers per hour, a DRT service is considered economically viable. When demand is low, however, it is conceivable to reduce resources or, even better, to reallocate them to other use cases in order to relieve the cost to the public purse, e.g. for ambulance transport, school transport or company shuttles.”

Scaling – the right pace

Predicting the vehicle requirement for DRT can be very challenging. It is not easy to assess from the outset whether or not a service area should be expanded or more vehicles deployed. Making the wrong decision can have a negative impact on performance. On the one hand, having too many vehicles or a too extensive service area can generate enormous costs; on the other hand, under-provision of DRT services can lead to disappointment on the part of users. A flexible supply base is one solution.

Dan Mould: 

What we have seen in the market, and where the opportunities lie to make this more efficient, is flexible supply. If you have a core of your minimum supply base, for example, three minibuses, then you can flexibly mobilise the fourth minibus, which you may not be certain to use, through the WeDRT system.”

This ability is a real asset for on-demand service operators because both an underused fleet and an unfulfillable demand will eventually damage the service

Determining the fleet size and other parameters as accurately as possible – for example during the initial test phase – comes down to the right model design and analysis of the area. Jack Holland explains:

It is crucial to study the exact needs and circumstances of a particular region and then deploy a DRT service where it best complements, not competes with, the existing infrastructure. Scaling can mean starting in a very small area and introducing, for example, an initial feeder service to the main railway station. If this service proves successful, further stops can be added or new use cases identified.”

DRT services in France and the UK – A fair comparison?

Padam Mobility’s DRT service in the area surrounding Paris – TAD IDFM – is a very successful example of scaling. The service has been gradually extended to cover 40 service areas to date. It coordinates 8 different transport operators on a single platform, which simplifies travel for people living in Paris suburbs.

Whilst transport policies and the funding frameworks in the UK and France are very different, what we can learn is that people living in areas underserved by public transport will respond positively when they are connected to the public transport network using DRT.

Scaling – what are the take-aways?

The ability to scale a service is another very important success factor for a functioning DRT service. So what are the most important insights our experts would like to share?

Jack Holland:

Start small, have clear KPIs in place. If the KPIs are achieved look for growth, if the KPIs aren’t achieved look for something else. So, have a clear plan of where you launch, what your KPIs are, in terms of patronage, in terms of revenue, in terms of passenger experience. Use them as your basis and then look to expand from there and scale.”

Dan Mould:

You will never be able to simulate exactly what the demand or the optimal supply should be. You just want to have that foundation in the early stages to be able to scale efficiently. You need to have the set-up you need to react to data that comes in.”

The masterclass onScaling is the third and final webinar in the current series, run by  Padam Mobility and Landor Links. The other events in this series covered the topicsData Analysis of DRT Services and Integrated Ticketing. Click on the respective topics to access the corresponding YouTube video. You can find the corresponding articles under these links:

#1 A smart ticket to ride – Ask the experts! 

#2 Using Data Science to increase the success of your DRT scheme 

On-demand mobility can be a very important component in providing an effective, user-friendly public transport system. We believe that it’s important to share our experience of the implementation of DRT services with public transport authorities and operators and show how on-demand services could play an important role in BSIPs. We’re always happy to talk about how DRT can improve your bus network. Just contact Jack Holland or David Carnero directly.

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Merging a DRT and a paratransit service: why is it a good idea?

Image rues d'Albi

In Albi, south of France, a proactive policy in favour of People with Reduced Mobility is pursued. The municipality distributes its newspaper in Braille, and since 2021 the 84,000 inhabitants of the Grand Albigeois area have been sharing a Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) merged with a Paratransit service. Padam Mobility supported the urban area in the implementation of this merged on-demand mobility solution.

DRT? Paratransit? What are the differences?

Instead of following fixed itineraries and timetables, DRT is based on users’ bookings. Algorithms calculate rides in real time to optimise them and pool as many bookings as possible. The Paratransit is a DRT that focuses on the specific needs of the most fragile users. Often operated door-to-door, it is able to accommodate equipment such as wheelchairs and to include companions in the ride booking and management.

Why combine the two types of services?

The economic and ecological value of public transport lies in the sharing of rides. Economic, because the fuller the vehicles are, the less the rides cost the community. Ecological because sharing more rides reduces the number of kilometres travelled – particularly when empty – and emits less CO2.

While most local authorities opt for a separation of DRT and paratransit, the French region of Grand Albigeois has recognised the value of merging the services. Merging the two services means that more trips can be made. It also means that more options are offered: With a combined fleet, the local authority and users benefit from greater flexibility.
A Paratransit vehicle will no longer make an empty ride if a request from a non-Paratransit user is on its itinerary. Bringing the two offers together is also useful in fighting against the invisibility of disability. With more ride proposals and users who live alongside each other thanks to technological optimisation: the Grand Albigeois service is a success.

How do the two types of services interact?

To achieve this, the two types of service are configured simultaneously to be compatible. PRMs will be able to book their rides door-to-door, while other users will be able to book their rides stop-to-stop. This guarantees a tailor-made service for each user while maintaining the efficiency of the service. The algorithms are designed to optimise the different types of bookings, while taking into account the specific pick-up and drop-off times for PRM users who require them. To ensure a high quality of service, the local authority can choose to merge its services on a continuous basis, or over specific time slots.

In the Grand Albigeois area, the results speak for themselves: in less than 6 months, the Libé’A service has recorded 7,200 rides, 49% of which are PRM rides. The future looks even brighter for the local authority, with a 36% increase in ridership over the period of time. Many local authorities are taking a close interest in the Albi example.

Merging DRT and Paratransit: what does it mean technically?

The Padam Mobility product teams regularly look at how to merge usual public transport and Paratransit. The idea originated from many local authorities in multi-operated areas. Rather than operating two on-demand services that pool bookings separately, the aim is to obtain a merged mobility service – still adapted for Paratransit and meeting specific needs – but which is better optimised and more cost-effective, as it meets the needs of different populations simultaneously.” Samuel Bousquet, Product Manager and Javier Guimera, Transport Consultant at Padam Mobility.

The secret of the merging of DRT and Paratransit is to be found at several levels:

The algorithms

There are two types of algorithms:

  • Online algorithms: used when a user makes a booking on the website or his/her mobile application. They display the booking possibilities in less than a second, and ensure that the user request and the constraints of the service are respected. This type of algorithm optimises the user’s search results to display only the most relevant information.
  • Offline algorithms: these algorithms are launched outside of service hours; they aim to reduce ride times by pooling bookings for better service optimisation. For instance, this approach can change the order of rides or the distribution of vehicles.

In the context of a merged DRT and Paratransit services, these two types of algorithms will also take into account the specific needs of the users. Thus, the dwelling time – which can sometimes be longer to meet the specific needs of PRMs – or specific equipment are taken into account in a specific way in the calculation made by the algorithms.” Points out Matthieu Lormeau, Operational Research and Data Science Engineer at Padam Mobility.

The pick-up zones

In order to allow a perfect merging of DRT and Paratransit, the two services are configured to rely jointly on the same pick-up zones. The pick-up zones will coexist with stops (fixed or virtual) for DRT use, and polygons (service perimeters in which door-to-door rides are authorized for PRMs).

The allocation of services to the most suitable vehicles based on bookings

The notion of pooling and merging has a particularly important effect on the number of vehicles deployed and the economic rationality of the service. Indeed, the economic efficiency of a DRT is mainly based on the objectives of better dispatch of vehicles – or even their reduction – as well as on an objective of increasing the rate of user pooling.

 

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Public Transport Demand and the built environment

How to ensure the success of your demand responsive transport (DRT) through targeted data analysis?

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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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Padam Mobility Masterclass series – #2 Using data science to increase the success of your DRT scheme

Padam Mobility and Prospective Labs, in collaboration with Landor Links, present the second edition of the Quality Bus Masterclass Series. 

Kate Gifford, Head of Future Mobility at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, led the hour-long discussion of Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) and Data which featured Pete Ferguson, CEO and Co-Founder of Prospective Labs, and David Carnero, Head of International Business Development and Partnerships at Padam Mobility.

The webinar took questions from participants and discussed the role of data in setting up and shaping DRT services.

What data sets will I need for a feasibility study (and if this involves bus data,
how do I reassure the operator that supplying the data won’t have an adverse impact
on their existing business)?”


The Prospective Labs approach to data is about understanding the potential role of DRT within the transport network – and where it might have real competitive advantages over the private vehicle. 

Pete Ferguson:

We utilise a lot of the ticketing and timetabling data from the core public transport network and we combine that with essentially the core transport modelling activity that you may be aware of within your own local authorities that is looking at the propensity to travel under different conditions. How sensitive are local populations to changes in travel time, changes in costs and what will their behaviour be when you make that change.”

Another important source of data from which Prospective Labs draws information is the National Travel Survey, which provides about 100,000 responses annually, relating to different preferences depending on the mode of transport or reason for travel.

All this data is cross-referenced with the ‘supply side’, i.e. the structural, multi-modal public transport network across the UK.

There’s a core of national data sets that then can be combined with a rich representation of the actual underlying supply network”

This broad pool of data allows Prospective Labs to understand what would happen if any changes were made to public transport services in a particular region.

Because DRT can be configured in different ways, the impacts of different configurations can be checked. In some areas, it may make sense to maintain a fixed route structure that is then served ‘on-demand’, in other regions it may be more effective to operate in a free-floating model, and still others may benefit from the DRT service simply acting as a feeder or drop-off for central transport hubs.

David Carnero:

[It is about] understanding where the structural network is, what frequency it is running, what is the network coverage, etc. [From our side] we can implement the DRT in a way that it doesn’t compete with the structural transport network. […] We have a not-compete functionality in our platform, […] and so if somebody asks for a journey between point a and point b and that journey can be done by a fixed line bus then we will not accept the DRT journey and actually refer them to the specific timetable, to that bus line for example.” 

A good study will be able to reassure the existing operators that the DRT services will enhance the network rather than detract from it.

Data collection can be expensive and DRT schemes present financial challenges. How can the additional spend on data collection be justified?”

Collecting and evaluating relevant data, especially before an on-demand service is to be put into operation, contributes decisively to the success or failure of the new transport offer.

David Carnero:

The role of data from our perspective is really to de-risk a project, it can contribute to reducing costs, it can allow, for example, the right supply to be put in place at the right time. […] It takes away a lot of the surprises that can happen. […] We look at it as well as the base on which you build your  hypothesis at the beginning if there isn’t a previous DRT service and then you have something really concrete that you can measure against.”

Pete Ferguson adds that it’s more about the cost of not collecting and analysing data:

A few weeks of paying for drivers and vehicles for a poorly set up service is ultimately much more costly than upfront planning and data analysis. A possible later readjustment, in the case of a poorly running service, would therefore be more fatal than the investment in a thorough implementation process could possibly be.”

It’s crucial to use data expertise in decision-making, assessing the characteristics of a region and the behaviour of (future) service users and provide advice on the likelihood of success for each potential type of service.

We can look at concepts like the ‘consumer surplus’ which is useful for gauging what additional services or destinations that people can access with this additional connectivity. It’s good for both looking in the increase of the value to passengers, but also can be used to ensure minimal impacts if we’re trying to cut costs. Essentially you consider the least reduction in consumer surplus for each cost-cutting scenario”.

Padam Mobility partners with Prospective Labs because: “We have recognised that the need for data analysis of mobility behaviour in certain regions is very high for public authorities, but for various reasons often cannot be carried out independently”, says David Carnero.

In the event that DRT metrics show a decline in performance, what mechanisms can be used to identify problems early and trigger mitigating action?

Initially, Prospective Labs works to develop reliable scenarios that are very close to real-world scenarios, so that there’s a model to predict how well the DRT will be used which can be validated against the real world. So the first thing is to establish how well this process is working and use the model to predict how adjustments might be implemented.

In addition, long-term analysis of data from the platform is important, explains David Carnero:

We analyse the supply, we analyse how people are searching within our digital products and, for example, if there are lots of searches that aren’t what we call it ‘converted’ we then look to understand what’s happing. Things like where are the origins, where are the destinations? Do we need to extend the zone?” 

Using this approach, the service can be adjusted to provide the best and most cost-effective solution for the area, passengers and the operator.

If you’d like to hear more questions about DRT and data answered, the masterclass on DRT and data is available in full length on YouTube.

What hurdles do decision-makers and mobility managers see in the introduction of an on-demand service?

Word Cloud

According to the audience, concerns about unmanageable costs or unmanageable risk seem to be particular obstacles to setting up DRT in certain regions. This is a dilemma because if DRT services are rejected outright, best practices cannot be developed, which can slow down the overall evolution of new transport services.

What comes next?

Assuming the planning of a DRT service has been successful and the service has been running for some time, how should data continue to be used to improve the service or even identify and fix problems?

The next Masterclass will be about this very topic: Scaling DRT – Using a flexible demand platform and a flexible vehicle supply model to grow patronage efficiently. 

This third and final masterclass by Padam Mobility will explore the levers and measures that are available to efficiently operate on-demand bus schemes.

Dan Mould, Managing Director Of Coachscanner will be outlining his unique supply-side platform (We-DRT) for operating DRT using a mixture of permanent and flexible bus suppliers. This will include learnings from operating TfWM West Midlands On-Demand Service.

Jack Holland, Head of Business Development in the UK for Padam Mobility will be sharing his experience of managing and growing DDRT services over the past 4 years. He will go through how to make full use of DRT software including the levers for marketing and price elasticity.

This next Masterclass will take place on 10 March at 10:30 GMT. You can register for this event by clicking on this link. As usual, you are also welcome to send us your questions!

 

About the Quality Bus Masterclasses in association with Landor Links

The Masterclass series was created primarily to help decision-makers understand how DRT can be incorporated into an Enhanced Partnership Programme between transport operators and public transport authorities in the most risk-free way possible.

You can also watch the video of our first Masterclass at this link. Here David Carnero together with Matt Smallwood and Antonio Carmona talked about the topic “Integrated Ticketing”.

 

 

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Padam Mobility Masterclass series – #1 A smart ticket to ride: Ask the experts!

Landor Links

Ticketer and Padam Mobility, together with Landor Links, have kicked off the three-part masterclass series to share current thinking about the potential for Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) in Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) across the UK. 

The three-part masterclass series was launched mid-January by Padam Mobility in partnership with Landor Links. The aim of each of the engaging one-hour discussions is to draw out expertise on the integration of DRT into a  user-friendly, effective public transport service. 

In the first Masterclass, Antonio Carmona, General Manager International and Head of UK Sales at Ticketer, and David Carnero, Head of International Business Development and Partnerships at Padam Mobility, together with chair Matt Smallwood, Head of Digital Strategy, Transport for the North, talked about why – and how –  transport operators and public transport authorities should tackle the core problem of integrated ticketing. Below is a small excerpt of the questions and topics discussed during the webinar. The full video can be found on YouTube.  

Integrated Ticketing is key, is one of the main areas that you need to work on to remove those barriers to access the system.” Antonio Carmona

From the start, Antonio Carmona stressed the importance of a seamless payment and ticketing system to encourage people to switch to public transport. Combine with other measures – such as proximity of services, on-demand rides and pricing – it is essential for creating public transport that is more attractive and more used than private cars.

But how can public transport authorities and operators be convinced that an on-demand service can enrich the public mobility offer in a given region? 

It’s important to see DRT as a service improvement, according to David Carnero, rather than viewing it primarily as a profit-making business model. The overriding goal of on-demand transport is perfect integration into the existing infrastructure rather than competing with it – even if there are DRT services that are significantly more lucrative than maintaining fixed bus routes. DRT then has the potential to serve, for example, the first and last mile between the homes and larger transport hubs. People are thus offered a real alternative to their own car, without the DRT service competing with, but rather complementing, the existing public transport network. 

It’s about not competing with structural – fixed-line – transport, it’s about ‘adding to’ or giving more flexibility to the structural transport. To do this it has to have simple fares and integrated ticketing.” David Carnero 

Data sharing is an obstacle to an integrated ticketing system 

It’s clear that seamless travel – without tedious questions like “Which ticket do I need for which mode of transport?” or “Where can I buy my next ticket?” – is desirable. But why is it that the public transport offer in the UK resembles more of a patchwork quilt, and trips from A to B in many cases require more than just a single ticket? 

Antonio believes that there needs to be more confidence among operators to participate in a common system: 

In every beginning of integration processes you will see challenges about sharing data but in the end, once you have proven to the different operators that there is a benefit to them in participating in the system and sharing some data that is relevant, then those frictions will probably disappear. It is not a technical problem, lots of data is available. [The challenges are] more related to the agreements that are in place.”  Antonio Carmona 

One ticket – many payment options?

Transport-on-demand services are currently exceptional in most regions of the UK. People may have become accustomed to a neighbourhood service that they order over the phone. However, the technical booking options via app or website tend to deter older users in particular. Similarly, when it comes to the question of payment options. There are people who refuse to pay via an app or prepay card and prefer to pay in cash directly in the vehicle. Are these users going to be excluded from the ‘new’ transport services sooner or later? 

The simple answer is ‘no’. DRT services, as offered by Padam Mobility, are public services and do not exclude any user group. Providers need to ensure that people can use the service in the easiest way for them, for example, by ensuring that cash payment remains possible on board in addition to the booking option by telephone or online. Only then can it be guaranteed that the services remain inclusive.

How can the step towards more ‘on-demand’ succeed? 

One aspect, in particular, becomes clear during the discussion: the answers are there, DRT as a real enrichment of a region’s mobility offer does not have to remain a pipe dream, but can be successfully established with a well-thought-out approach.   

Nevertheless, at the moment, just before the launch of the Enhanced Partnerships within the Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIP), many public transport authorities and operators are faced with the major challenge of taking the first step. A reasonable, feasible plan has to be worked out to have a chance of securing some of the public funds. 

To have the best chance of success, careful data analysis and simulations before the actual service goes live is key to tailoring a DRT service for a specific area. There is not a standard service model for every region. In this context, David emphasises that Padam Mobility’s focus is on areas away from the big cities which need careful analysis.

Careful testing and data analysis will determine the best approach to serve a rural or suburban area. Where areas are unlikely to be profitable it’s important to provide a carefully designed service that supports the network and other fixed-line services. 

The next webinar will look at the topic of DRT and Data with Landor Links on 10 February 2022 at 10:30 am (UTC). You will find the link to the registration form further down in this article. 

A question of trust 

Can people who have become accustomed to a timetable just “change” like that? Certainly, the question of how to bring users along on the path to more flexible, demand-responsive transport should not be underestimated. Humans are creatures of habit. If the service does not work as intended or as they are used to, there is a risk that people will turn away and reject it. Gaining the trust of end-users may require introducing services in parallel, and will rely on full transparency, for example by guaranteeing real-time tracking of the journey or by providing users with push notifications on their mobile phones in case of delays and other problems. 

I think [the bottom line is] that the technology and the systems around that are a real key enabler for that integration piece, for that customer journey, and for I think [the issue of communication with users].” Matt Smallwood 

It certainly takes time to make new mobility services attractive to a broad population. Reliable support and transparent communication with operators and end-users will add to the eventual success of DRT.

Watch the entire masterclass with Matt Smallwood, Antonio Carmona and David Carnero on YouTube

We would also be very happy to welcome you on 10 February at 10:30 am (UTC). Then we’ll be covering in detail how the right data analysis contributes to a successful implementation of an on-demand service. Click here to register. You are also welcome to send us your questions in advance (use the dedicated text field in the registration form).

 

Find out more about Padam Mobility 

This article might interest you as well: Ticketer and Padam Mobility announce partnership to further develop the Demand-Responsive Transport landscape in the UK 

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