Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) needs to be subsidised to develop in rural areas, according to platform provider Padam Mobility.
The company is one of the partners of on-demand bus service HertsLynx, which launched in Hertfordshire in September, backed by £1.4 million from the Department for Transport (DfT)’s £20m rural mobility fund.
This type of funding, along with a recognition that a DRT pilot needs to be long term, is critical to success, according to David Carnero, UK country manager, Padam Mobility.
Padam Mobility, which is owned by Siemens Mobility, has more than 70 live projects in Europe and its approach is to make DRT as efficient as possible and reduce costs.
“In Strasbourg, for example, the city authorities set up DRT to serve the peri-urban and rural parts around the city and they did an analysis of fixed line (buses) versus DRT which found that for every one euro spent on DRT they would have spent three euros on the fixed line service,” Carnero said.
“This is what we’re looking to do in the UK - push down the cost of the service, increase the efficiency and therefore take the minimum amount of subsidy possible.”
Carnero believes that this “shift in mindset” about DRT has started to happen in the UK.
He is encouraged that the trials backed by the rural mobility fund are long term.
“Previously, pilots have been run for six to 12 months and it’s almost impossible to get what you need in that timeframe because it’s a question of building the patronage, looking at the service and looking at the data,” he said.
“Our feeling is that it’s 12 months before you have valuable data. The rural mobility fund is for long-term trials - Hertfordshire is four years - so we can really analyse what the service does and look at different ways to increase demand for the service.”
That may mean looking at the use of DRT by commuters versus school transport, for example, although the Covid-19 pandemic has made analysing patronage “a little more difficult” or analysing whether there are lots of searches for a place that is just outside a DRT zone, which may mean it is worthwhile expanding the zone.
Joining Smart Transport
Padam Mobility intends to share its learnings with the Smart Transport membership network, which it recently became part of.
“We felt that joining Smart Transport would be a good way to engage with the DfT and with local and regional transport authorities to share what we’ve learnt from all of the DRT projects we are involved in, and to help set DRT up for success in the UK,” Carnero said.
One of the most successful DRT services in the UK to date is Lincolnshire County Council’s CallConnect bus service, which has been operating for 20 years.
It offers customers flexible, bookable services and timetabled services, with the choice of booking online or by phone.
The latter is very important for accessibility, according to Carnero, and can help ensure that people without access to smartphones, for example, are able to leave rural areas and don’t feel isolated.
Padam Mobility offers its local authority partners both mobile apps and a call centre function, although this is sometimes a staged roll out.
Integrated ticketing will also be possible in the future through Padam Mobility’s recent partnership with Ticketer.
Integrated ticking is already working well for Padam Mobility’s DRT service in the greater Paris region where the DRT service connects with 60 commuter train stations.
“So you can take the Metro or the train and get onto the DRT with one ticket,” Carnero said.
“That’s where we see a strong role for DRT - in that first and last mile.”