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FEATURE: On-demand bus services on the rise as Uber joins the ranks to commence trials

21 August 2019 #Bus and Coach #Features & Interviews #TNB News

Demand-responsive services are a growth area in public transport and represent a massive opportunity moving forward.

The prevalence of mobile phones means virtually every would-be customer now carries his or her very own ‘bus stop’ in their pocket.

The potential benefits are huge, of course. Operators can run services when and where they’re needed, rather than sticking rigidly to routes and timetables that often mean buses operate much below capacity.

This could hold the answer to public transport provision in rural areas and, in response to the introduction of clean air zones across the country, also contribute towards reduced congestion and the associated emissions.

Numerous demand responsive services are already up and running across the country – including the successful PickMeUp in Oxford – and just last week TNB reported on the launch of a new pilot in the Tees Valley.

During its first year of service, PickMeUp, which is operated by the Go Ahead Group, exceeded all forecasts, providing more than 140,000 rides at an average of almost 4,000 per week. Meanwhile, more than 25,000 members of the public downloaded the service’s ride hailing app.

Katy Taylor, Commercial and Customer Director at Go-Ahead Group, said, “Passengers have embraced this new idea and we’re looking at ways to introduce demand-responsive bus services elsewhere in the UK. We’re always keen to find ways to meet customers’ needs through better use of transport and innovation. Passengers and local businesses have told us they want more flexibility and greater connectivity and we’re working to deliver on those.”

Elsewhere, Transport for London is currently running a 12-month trial in Sutton, which aims to establish whether on demand services could boost public transport usage and reduce the numbers commuting by car.

Sutton was chosen as the trial location as it has high car use and has been difficult to serve with traditional public transport. The borough has 24 well-used bus routes and 9 railway stations.

However, due to its relatively low housing density and its historic development planned around people using private transport, it has not always been practical to run a dedicated bus service in certain areas.

But although the focus is firmly on Sutton for now, the results will prove instrumental in the direction and development of future services across the capital and elsewhere in the UK.Michael Hurwitz, TfL’s Director of Transport Innovation, said, “We are growing the bus network in outer London, as well as improving the capital’s Tube and rail service, but we also need to innovate and explore new ways of encouraging people out of their cars and onto more sustainable forms of transport.

“This trial will help us determine whether a more flexible, on-demand bus service complementing traditional routes could help us achieve the goal of making our streets better places for everyone.’

Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor for Transport, said, “On-demand buses are an innovative new form of public transport designed to be even more convenient, particularly in areas of outer London where it can be harder to get around.

“This trial will help us determine whether expanding demand responsive technology can reduce car use and help clean up our toxic air.’”Now, one very well-known major player – Uber – is launching its own pilot programme to explore how demand-responsive public transport services could be operated and rolled out.

The company has teamed up with Skybus to launch a three-month trial of a new demand-responsive bus service for travellers taking journeys to and from Auckland International Airport in Auckland, New Zealand.

It’s all part of Uber’s long-term visions of how the transport landscape will look in the future and how it will form part of the mix. And, given Uber’s global prominence and reputation as a market disruptor, the lessons learnt during the pilot could well have an impact in UK and across the world.

A company statement made its position clear: “Uber is determined to continue to work in concert with key partners to create smart, safe, connected, world class cities of the future. Enhancing existing infrastructure to solve complex transport problems and to remove friction for riders and drivers – every day of the week.”


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