How to avoid redundancy when switching to DRT

Smart mobility trends are pushing towns and cities to explore new mobility options for citizens while still struggling to fund public transport models inherited from the 20th century.

People are increasingly open and keen to use new forms of urban and suburban mobility, and MaaS projects are also taking shape. However, no standardized process to address the change has yet arisen. This means city planners and authorities are blindly proceeding to design this new mobility without all the tools necessary to support decisions.

That’s why the development of demand-responsive transit (DRT) in public transportation systems is facing diverse challenges, including the fear of cannibalization of existing fixed lines. How cities, operators and software suppliers deal with this challenge depends on the scope of the DRT itself.

Last mile-focused DRTs in suburban areas are the least likely to cannibalize existing fixed lines, in fact, they usually complement them. However, they are also the most dependent on the outcome of those lines to attract demand, having generally less impact in this regard. Those operations attract current users of the main transit options who were previously using other last-mile options like walking, cycling, bike-sharing, car, etc. within the smart mobility ecosystem.

Higher demand and denser areas mean higher rates of overlap and, therefore, redundancy between DRT and fixed lines. In such cases, a DRT tends to be deployed as a separate service from public transit, with a higher price. This makes it harder to offer integrated tariffs or build a smoother MaaS experience in terms of cost-effectiveness of the service. Ridership is higher by volume but the convenience and sustainability of these operations are in doubt since novelty tends to create an environment of multiple privately funded options, of which only a few will survive in the long term. This will cause prices to increase overall and services to struggle against car ownership. Along with the difficulties of managing fleets and resources while harvesting data for overall DRT evaluation, this can become a planning problem for authorities. 

Medium-sized and small villages are starting to approach hybrid or DRT-exclusive public transport systems due to the lack of other mobility products, given the low ridership. It is precisely these types of locations where cannibalization can be more dramatic and lack of local authority funding can threaten the chances of testing or switching to DRT. However, in Shotl’s experience, those who have dared to try have quickly realized that the best options are to re-use existing vehicles to transform those lines into DRT solutions. Moreover, in some locations, hybrid options offer the best chance to provide an excellent service, combining fixed routes at certain peak hours and DRT service at off-peak hours.

At the end of the day, each solution has its advantages and must answer the challenge of redundancy on its own terms and with diverse service configurations. At Shotl, we approach each operation as a specific case to give it the best possible chance of success and overcome the challenges involved.

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