Delivering Demand‑Responsive Transport in the West Midlands
Mark Collins, Innovation Integration Lead at Transport for West Midlands, outlines the launch of a new DRT bus service in the West Midlands and examines its success.
Credit: Transport for West Midlands
An ongoing partnership between Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), transport technology provider Via and vehicle operator Coachscanner is helping people to get where they need to go – without relying on private cars.
The project, first launched in April 2021, established West Midlands Bus On Demand, a Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) bus system that operates in and around the University of Warwick. The service has been well-received so far, with hundreds of students and community members becoming early adopters and using it consistently. This article will explain why the scheme was introduced; what it means for both passengers and TfWM; and what insights it may yield for the further introduction of technology-powered transport throughout the UK.
What is Demand-Responsive Transport, and how does it work?
Demand-Responsive Transport, also known as on‑demand transport, is a form of transport that sits somewhere in between a traditional bus and a taxi. A DRT vehicle can have any capacity – from a small minivan up to the size of a traditional bus – and does not travel along a fixed route; instead, it adjusts its route and schedule dynamically to fulfil passenger trip requests. A DRT service may require passengers to walk to existing bus stops or meet them at algorithmically‑determined ‘virtual bus stops’ (corners or other landmarks), or may even meet them directly at their requested pickup address.
In any service model, DRT is significantly more efficient, and more eco-friendly, than a private taxi service, as it can aggregate multiple passengers who are travelling in the same direction. Moreover, it is convenient enough to get passengers out of privately‑owned vehicles: in a DRT scheme in Sevenoaks, UK, 73 per cent of surveyed car-owning passengers reported using their car less and replacing these trips with dynamic demand-response journeys.
Within the last five years, as new technologies have emerged to automate booking, routing and dispatch, DRT has grown in relevance to both passengers and transport operators”
Versions of DRT have been implemented throughout the UK for decades, typically in the form of rural transport services in regions that could not support traditional fixed route transport, or community transport services for passengers with disabilities. These ‘dial-a-bus’ schemes were, as the name implies, phone-based, with limited technology available to assist with optimising routes and schedules. As such, DRT had limited appeal to passengers, who had little flexibility for spontaneous trips, and transport agencies, who needed to take reservations and schedule and dispatch trips with paper manifests or by individual phone calls. These limitations kept DRT in fairly niche applications.
Issue 3 2021
Bus & Coach