Providing frequent and cost-effective public transport in scattered residential areas is a challenge commonly faced by planners, operators, and metropolitan administrations. But success stories do exist. Like our fully functional operation in the city of Vimercate (26,156 habitants), located in Italy’s northern Monza province.
The city’s public transportation system is made up of 6 urban bus lines, all of which are connected to train and metro stations in Milan’s metropolitan area by 10 inter-city bus routes. A study commissioned by the City Council found that some of its local urban lines are inefficient and that revenue from tickets is currently only covering about 10% of the operational cost.
The scattered layout of the residential zones around Vimercate means that it is challenging to provide an efficient public transportation system for residents. Neighborhoods like Frazioni are spread out and the distance that exists between such areas and the city center means that a number of zones are only partially served. A neighborhood like Velasca, the most isolated, has no public transportation at all.
For this reason, in the summer of 2018, the City Council decided to withdraw two bus lines that were operating on a circular route and running at a very low frequency. Buses along these routes were moving around empty most of the time so the City decided to introduce a new Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) service that would cover the entire city.
What we proposed in Vimercate was to define an area of operation, rather than a traditional fixed-route, and include more new stops, taking the overall number of bus stops from 45 to 63. Consequently, this now means that areas which were previously undersupplied, have more coverage. Users have a bus stop closer to their homes.
When the service began back in February only one vehicle was being used but after only a few months demand increased to the point where in September, another vehicle had to be added. Both vehicles are small buses giving advantages like increasing the average speed of the vehicle and giving more accessibility in the narrower street of the city.
The main point to highlight is the reduction in waiting time. Our data shows that waiting time (from the moment a ride is requested until the passenger gets picked up) has dropped to as low as 10 minutes. This means that waiting time has been reduced when compared to the old service.
Another thing to point out is the increase in ridership; the previous service had a daily average ridership of 5 passengers, so around 25 passengers per week. When we deployed our On-demand service, after just a few weeks we had 10 to 30 passengers per day. By the time the second vehicle was added we saw ridership figures shoot up to 50 per day. Now, after 9 months of service, we are picking up more than 260 passengers per week.
On this heat map, we can see the details of origins and destinations. The data reveals that a big percentage of all trips are from the same bus stops; located in Vimercate’s town center, the neighborhoods (Italian - Frazioni) of Velasca, Oreno, and Oldaniga, in the north, west, and north-east, and in the commercial area of Torri Bianche, in the south.
Now, the service can transport people from and around the town center, covering all the necessary pickups, without neglecting commuters coming from outside the center who can request a ride when needed. This way, the bus no longer wastes time or fuel going outside the center when there is nobody to pick up.
After just a few weeks of service, running costs were reduced. We multiplied the number of users by almost ten times and waiting times were really low.
We have been able to track how the number of downloads and users registered is increasing, and how feedback collected from users during service is consistent with these figures as they rated their trips with an average of 4.8 out of 5. Comments highlighted that the service is fast, useful and efficient.
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