5 essential steps to get users on board with on-demand

At Shotl, we don’t just provide smart vehicle booking and dispatch technology to run demand-responsive transport (DRT). We also advise transport providers about how to generate demand for new services and grow ridership. With that in mind, we’ve put together our list of top five essential steps to do just that:   

1. Do your homework

It’s no use waiting for launch day to start generating demand for a new service. Building up ridership is a long and complex process that starts long before any vehicle sets its wheels on the road. First, you need to lay the foundations for a well-defined service through simulations, studies, interviews, focus groups, etc. All this helps build up a detailed picture of the target area and the specific needs of its inhabitants. Since everywhere is different, the more you study an area, the better you can tailor your DRT offering to users’ needs, and the greater the chances of success.  

All of which will help determine whether your new service meets our next criteria:

2. Answer a genuine unmet need

If DRT doesn’t represent an improvement on the status quo, it’s unlikely to take off. Three tried and tested ways to ensure DRT will fail include: Running a small number of on-demand vehicles in too large an area; shoehorning shuttles into an area in competition with existing fixed lines providing an equivalent service; and failing to connect people with somewhere they actually need to go. They sound obvious, but they’re so important that they bear repeating. Otherwise, you could end up with little more than a supplementary service, for which demand grows slowly, if at all.     

If, however, you put in something much better than what went before then ridership is almost guaranteed to rise. For example, implement shared DRT shuttles in a remote or suburban area served by infrequent fixed lines, or cut wait times from hours to minutes, and success is assured.

But why limit yourself to solving the obvious problems when you could…

3. Be disruptive

Remember life before the smartphone? Imagine life without it? Us neither. Come up with a transit solution that’s anywhere close to being a game-changer on the same level, and your only problem might be keeping up with demand. That’s why we firmly believe in public-private partnerships where fresh eyes can bring new perspectives to old problems. As an example, in summer 2020, we provided our technology for the Carles pilot program in Sant Cugat, which filled a previously unidentified gap in the market by providing shared DRT in the form of minivans. Nobody had ever thought to use vans before for shared, on-demand transport; it just took a different perspective to see their possibilities.   

And it was precisely because Carles was new and disruptive that it was easy to…   

4. Get the conversation started

Now—having thought about all of the above—you can launch your DRT service! And when you do, it’s important to have a carefully designed communications strategy in place that’s as tailored to the target area and users as the service itself. That’s why we work with transport providers to understand how they can best to communicate about new DRT services using new or existing communications channels—local council websites, community or neighborhood associations, notice boards, social media, good old-fashioned print media, etc. The goal is to raise awareness, overcome reticence and convince people to try it out.     

And, of course, the holy grail is to…  

5. Convert users into brand ambassadors

Put a product on the market that is truly innovative or adds real value and sit back and watch the conversation continue without you having to drive it. When users value a service, they become engaged at a personal level and word-of-mouth naturally follows. In the case of Carles, the local council’s communications were given a huge boost through user-generated content on community Facebook groups. As well as Carles’ innovative nature, we believe two other factors were key: 1. The service was initially free, something unusual for transit but which could be an interesting short-term strategy to grow demand for new services. 2. It was perceived by some as a threat to existing services, particularly taxis. Carles, therefore, polarized the local community and discussions went viral.  

So there you have it: our top five recommendations to design a high-quality DRT service that speaks to users’ needs and helps generate demand.

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