On-Demand Public Transit to address low ridership and high costs of paratransit

Man telephone in hand

In rural areas and small towns, public transit buses regularly drive around with empty seats. This is costly and bad for the environment and therefore no longer a logical option. At the same time, the costs for paratransit services in these areas are rising. Because of the limited mobility options, the use of paratransit taxis is increased. Transdev in the Netherlands saw the solution in on-demand public transit services (locally known as OV-op-Maat) and started two pilots.

The world of mobility is changing, and the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this,

says Lucien Brouwers, Director of Transport on Demand at Transdev Netherlands.

Passenger numbers in public transportation are falling and budgets are under pressure in the special group transportation sector. The municipalities are struggling with the fact that there’s a large aging population and therefore more people are relying on paratransit services.

Transdev therefore believes change in both areas is very important.

For years, consideration has been given to ways of ensuring that people from paratransit services use public transit more often. We don’t want to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, but to be proactive in this respect,

says Lucien.

Transdev has previously rolled out flexible transportation services on demand in the Netherlands such as BravoFlex, AMLFlex and BrengFlex. These services were primarily aimed for the public transit part of the industry. « The paratransit services, on the other hand, remained underexposed. »

The budgets for public transit and paratransit services are separate.

The municipalities feel responsible for the vulnerable who rely on paratransit services and the Province for the best possible public transit. These interests are sometimes at odds with each other.

Brouwers believes that the various parties do recognize the importance of having a single budget for both forms of transportation in order to organize transportation more efficiently, but that the discussion on this is sluggish.

Talks in multiple areas

Transdev in the Netherlands therefore decided not to wait for the unification of budgets. The company itself set about creating synergy between the two forms of transportation with On-Demand Public Transit.

Various small cores and neighborhoods of small towns are hereby connected to public transit with paratransit vehicles. Passengers can book a ride from certain stops to a transfer stop or junction up to one hour in advance by phone or via the dedicated app.

Depending on the agreements made with the passenger, payment can be made in various ways. You can pay in advance with iDeal, in the vehicle with a debit card or with a national Public Transit smartcard with a pre-paid product, such as a subscription or student public transit card. According to Transdev, new payment methods will also be supported later.

Currently, two six-month pilots are running with this form of transportation. One since December 2021 in parts of the municipalities of Aalsmeer and Amstelveen and the other since January 2022 in Hoeksche Waard/Goeree-Overflakkee. In addition, Brouwers states that there is also enthusiasm from several other provinces and municipalities for pilots. Discussions are currently being held about this.

No specific vehicles for this service

In contrast to previous flex projects, we have the transportation carried out as much as possible by the operator of the paratransit services in the region, » explains Brouwers.

The trips are integrated into their planning. This way, it is not necessary for a vehicle to be kept available specifically for this transport. If, for example, a driver has driven a regional taxi trip and afterwards comes close to picking up an on-demand public transit passenger, the driver can pick them up. That way you have as few empty kilometers as possible and can make optimal use of the existing systems.

In places where Transdev is not responsible for both paratransit and public transit, talks are being held with the concession holders.

In Aalsmeer, for example, we provide public transit and A-Tax de Vries, the company responsible for paratransit services, provides the on-demand public transit. We know that not all taxi companies are eager to cooperate. Just like in public transit, the driver shortage is high.

However, Brouwers states that most companies do believe in this solution.

Sometimes we have to work together to find a solution.

Ordering in advance is better service

Although something different is asked of the customer than what they are used to because of the requirement to reserve, on-demand public transit meets their needs better, according to Brouwers.

Passengers were very much bound to a timetable. Now they can order a ride at any time. Moreover, the journey is faster and cheaper for the through-traveler, even when using the Dutch national smart card. Fewer unnecessary movements are made. This also generates benefits in terms of sustainability and is nice for the environment. In Aalsmeer, for example, there are 36 fewer movements per day through the village centers. For the through-traveler, this saves five minutes per trip.

According to him, passengers are also enthusiastic about this transportation solution.

Of course, they are skeptical at first. We often hear: ‘If the taxi is full, I have a problem’. This is unjustified. The rides are ordered, and we make a planning based on the capacity. We ensure that everyone who orders the transportation, gets it at the desired time. Ordering in advance does not mean less service, but more. We drive when the customer needs it.


Later to become part of MaaS

The first two on-demand public transit pilots will end in the summer. After evaluation, it may be decided to continue for another six months.

It’s not quite a rush yet, but we’re very satisfied ». It will become clear in the coming period in which areas further pilots will be launched. Of course, in the areas where we have our own concessions, but also in the concessions of other public transportation operators. All with the aim of arriving at an efficient, fast and flexible mobility solution that may later become part of MaaS,

Brouwers concludes.

Article originally published on TaxiPro.nl & OVPro.nl

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