How transport demand will evolve in the near future

March 10, 2021
Chloe Johns

COVID-19 could well be the tipping point that ultimately moves public transport away from reliance on pre-scheduled services. We are already seeing an increased number of city-wide tenders for Demand Responsive Transport (DRT), MaaS and on-demand systems in regions such as Wales, West Midlands and West of England.

“The problem is largely one of wastage and inefficiency. At the moment, supply “hangs around” waiting for passengers to board, regardless of whether or not they are ever going to. This lack of synergy between supply and demand causes huge inefficiency problems. We see empty buses and half-empty trains travelling around all day. Not only is this system wasteful and unecological, but it is uneconomical too, wasting fuel and stacking up unnecessary operational costs.”

– Carl Partridge, CEO of UrbanThings

Another limitation of scheduled services is their inability to adapt to short-term surges in demand, for example football matches, public events or rallies. Schedules are usually updated just a few times per year and can be based around some fairly crude methods of measuring passenger demand. Transport for London still part-relies on paper surveys to collect data on passenger demand. Lack of flexibility creates an imbalanced supply and demand relationship, meaning frustrated passengers and lost revenue for operators.

Necessary Change

In a post-pandemic world, it will not be feasible to continue moving people around so inefficiently. Cities are going to need to get far more savvy about transit: starting with greater access to data, not only for passengers but also for the city itself. We’ve seen the beginning of this in the UK with the launch of powers such as the Buses Bill and BODS, but even with these in place, there is still relatively little data as to who is actually using those public transport services. 

There is currently no standardised sharing of data between operators, aggregator apps (like Google Maps and Citymapper) and local authorities. This leaves big knowledge gaps when it comes to making informed strategic decisions on how to provide public transport services. 

Open Collaboration

By adopting a collaborative approach to data sharing, cities and authorities can use new-found powers to create a Smart City platform that can capture passenger journey data and demand. Transport operators will have the ability to feed data into the platform (possibly even as a condition of operating) and aggregators will be encouraged to feed usage and journey planning data in exchange for free access to schedules. 

Not only will this allow a consolidated city view for efficient transport management, but it will allow the city to match supply with demand, creating an OnDemand system that brokers demand between passengers and multiple transport operators. Ticketing and fare policy can be managed centrally, with suitable incentives to encourage ridership, and transport performance can be monitored to ensure high quality of service. 

This is an excerpt from our recent white paper, to read more on the future of the transport industry and the role of smart cities, download it here.