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Sam Payne: All aboard the bus service transformation

Sam Payne, CEN's Climate Programme Manager

In a time of tighter budgets and increased demand for innovation, is it time for buses to change? Just as Uber transformed the taxi industry and bike hire revolutionised city-centre cycling, Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) could chart a new path to increased bus patronage.

DRT is not dissimilar to dial-a-ride schemes around the country, whereby those who find it difficult to use public transport can book a door-to-door bus service. The key difference is that DRT services are open to all and only take passengers between bus stops, not door-to-door.

As a result, passengers can take advantage of a highly flexible local transport system, offering journeys not possible to coordinate into timetabled bus services.

DRT isn’t a taxi service in a 16-seater minibus, though. Instead, journeys may take a little longer as several passenger journeys may be grouped into one trip. The software means instead of going straight from point A to B as you would in a taxi, you might go a slightly longer route via point C to pick up a passenger also travelling to point B.

Crucially, this means that passengers don’t need to rely on a timetabled bus service that doesn’t go to the destination they want when they want. There is the flexibility to go from bus stop to bus stop whenever a passenger wishes. For bus operators, this means profits are not lost on running timetabled services that may not pick up any passengers at certain times of day, resulting in cheaper fares for passengers.

Schemes around the country are proving successful at increasing bus passenger numbers and bringing back connectivity to rural communities that no longer have a timetabled service. It would be encouraging to see more local authorities trialling innovative DRT schemes.

If we are to increase our public transport usage and decrease community isolation, DRT done right might be worth getting on board with.


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