How to successfully launch a demand-responsive transit service

Launching a new demand-responsive transit (DRT) system is a big investment, so it’s important to get it right. We take a look at the critical conditions and elements that need to be in place to ensure success.

Pre-launch phase

It all starts with identifying an unmet need and analyzing the proposed area of operations to determine whether DRT could be the answer. At Shotl, we find the ideal locations for DRT are rural or suburban areas with low population density. These tend to be underserved by fixed-route-and-schedule public transport and low-frequency fixed-route services are the easiest to convert to DRT. Services that provide first/last mile transit connecting commuters to transport links are also ideal. Geography is also important; areas with steep hills or winding streets are harder to navigate with larger buses but easier with small DRT shuttles.

As a rule, DRT should integrate, not compete, with the existing transport network, and improve access to high-capacity transit modes. It makes less sense in busy city centers where citizens are already well served by multiple mobility options.

Then, you need to look at the figures. To be viable, DRT must have the potential to increase vehicle utilization while saving on resources and either decreasing operational costs or increasing revenue.

If it all looks promising, the next step is to consider the needs of your target users. Normally, our passengers come from a range of demographics, so we can implement a standard service. When dealing with certain user groups, however, like school transit or people with reduced mobility, needs may vary. In these cases, it’s more important to respect pick-up and drop-off times than offer flexibility, which means configuring our dynamic routing and dispatch algorithms accordingly.

Finally, everyone involved must be “on board” with DRT. Funding often comes from municipal authorities or governments, so it’s vital they understand how DRT works and how it fits into a sustainable transport ecosystem. The same goes for drivers and operatives. Fortunately, these days, the concept of DRT is becoming increasingly familiar to public bodies and the general public so some of our work is already done.

Launch phase

Once the feasibility studies are done and the tech is in place, we use a checklist to ensure everything is in place and working as it should before launch. This covers things like configuring admin roles and permissions; establishing vehicle types, capacity, and accessibility; service hours; drivers’ shift changes and breaks; the location of virtual stops; and collection of information from passengers who sign up for the service. Once everything is ready to go, we run internal tests and provide manuals and training for drivers and operatives.

If the client requests it, we’ll also prepare marketing materials they can use to communicate with residents. It’s crucial to raise awareness of the service and educate the public about how to use it. This can be done using leaflets, neighborhood meetings, ads, and more. Dedicated staff must also be on hand to help new users or take bookings by phone from passengers who can’t use the app.

Post-launch phase

If you’ve done your homework before the launch, the hard work is done. Once passengers get used to the new service and have positive experiences, ridership should grow by word of mouth. However, DRT isn’t a “set it and forget it” thing. That’s why we provide our clients with ongoing support via dedicated communications channels and our customer service platform. We also perform ongoing tracking of metrics and performance, provide regular data analytics and reports, and take advantage of feedback from passengers and our clients to continually improve the service.

All of which goes a long way toward ensuring our DRT deployments are as successful as they can possibly be!

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