The traditional UK bus industry has too many stakeholders and operates under inflexible regulatory policies. Taxis are very much a part of public transport provision, but their licensing is more akin to those of a pub or a hotel … or a gun.
For public transport to be truly demand-responsive, stakeholders must share data in an integrated ITS system that is compliant with their processes. The ownership of data is key, but account must be taken of people who do not own smartphones. User preferences must be identified, and we must ensure that we have the skills to access and interpret fully compliant data.
Through their manipulation of customer data, the likes of Tesco nowadays know us better than we know ourselves! Public transport needs models that are innovative, build confidence so as to scale up demand, creating a quality product that meets the needs of users who have, until now, been marginalised and substituting mobility products that are cheaper and more attractive than non-viable conventional services while minimising any resultant inconvenience.
Booking through agencies that are linked to supply chains, Demand Responsive Transport can be seen as a market research tool for redesigning fixed services, finding out where people want to go and building up demand so that a fixed timetable can again become viable. It is vitally important that we design multi-modal hubs, planning the infrastructure of the future, considering how to meet known demands cost-effectively, maximising use of existing resources and providing flexible solutions to meet varying demands.
Flex Denmark is a national vision reliant on a single shared IT system, with one facilitator in each region supporting numerous online authorities and operators which has reduced the costs of rural transport provision by 20 per cent, optimising provision of each trip while always keeping in mind who is bearing the cost. Barcelona provided an opportunity to develop car and ride-sharing at the Autonomous University campus where transport was not within its remit, showing that everyone has to give a little in order to gain a lot. In Florence DRT is a feeder to public transport hubs.
DRT and Mobility as a Service are potential golden bullets that have yet to break even, is this lack of a major breakthrough because of a reluctance to pay for the appropriate business models?
The retail sector's response to Covid was to create tens of thousands of jobs providing online shopping and delivery in just six months, and with Uber already encroaching on its market why cannot public transport move at that pace?
People don't like change unless they can be involved in the co-creation of new networks, with cooperation among stakeholders including end-users which will require continuous political support. We need to create living labs with public and private investment: in 2000 Tampere became Finland's demonstration city, and in the UK we could be emulating its example. However, investment in infrastructure and technology must be supported by data-sharing arrangements and do we have the skills to exploit the data in a multi-stakeholder engagement? Partnership working can achieve an integrated solution only when there is a will to involve all stakeholders in a common vision where ITS plays a vital role. For Scotland to deliver DRT and MaaS will need a national framework and fully integrated transport policy that recognises all modes as equals including bus, coach, train, ferry, community transport, taxis, private hire cars, car- and ride-sharing. Until then Scotland will remain a postcode lottery, with various levels of transport provided across the country and the car will remain first mode of choice.
Brian Masson for CILT