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Tackling the Challenges faced by On-Demand Public Transport - Autonomy

Published on February 2, 2023 by Michelle Djong Hui Ing


On-demand public transport has been implemented in various countries across different continents, but the challenges of meeting this demand remain. What challenges should the industry focus on tackling in order to ensure its sustainability and relevance to commuters?

This article focuses on what on-demand transport modes look like as well as the most pressing challenges that the transport industry is facing. Technological, legal and psychological barriers to on-demand transport remain. Hence, while different elements of an on-demand transit network can solve specific challenges in cities, such as profitability, congestion, utilization and accessibility, on-demand transportation must be as accessible and as easy as possible so people are more inclined to change their daily routines and incorporate on-demand transport modes into their routines.

**What does on-demand transportation look like?**

On-demand transport refers to adaptive transport services that use a fleet of vehicles to provide shared flexible transport to consumers, when and where they need it.

Some examples include the Île-de-France Mobilités TAD, which offers a transportation-on-demand system that operates solely on reservation. A Filéo mobility-on-demand service provides services from the towns and villages around Roissy to the Paris-CDG airport hub. Other examples include meeting the travel needs of commuters in business parks and industrial estates, covering the first and last mile to/from regular routes, offering more mobility to people living in suburban zones and catering to the unmet needs of specific groups of people, such as seniors or people with disabilities.

**Challenges faced by on-demand transportation**

**A key challenge faced by on-demand public transport is the lack of drivers that would allow for flexible and on-demand transportation to happen in a consistent manner.** When regular bus routes are replaced by transport-on-demand and they are unreliable, it lowers the commuters’ preference for on-demand transportation. In Vétheuil, France, there have been complaints that a reservation was cancelled right before the actual time, causing inconveniences to commuters.

**When the fleets are spread over a large area, a lack of drivers compound the problem that already occurs in the regular public transport routes.** Although there are on-demand transport available for students with disabilities in Maubeuge, for example, the resignation of a driver meant that students did not have transportation for their first day of school.

**Another challenge is accessibility of the reservation and enquiry tools for commuters.** On-demand transport requires an infrastructure with a call center, a website and mobile app with information/ reservation options for passengers as well as a geolocation service to find the transport vehicles available nearby. An algorithm that calculates and plans trips according to real-time conditions is also required, although the standard metric of what an optimal route may prove hard to define.

![LCS.png]( "LCS.png")

Panel discussion during the London City Summit organized on 22 October 2022. Photo by Autonomy Paris.

**A recent** **summit** **organized by Autonomy Paris in London with the theme featured a conference program about the future of autonomous vehicles.** In a panel discussion with innovation specialists and transport planners in London, a key theme that emerged on the challenge for transportation is that user preferences are constantly changing. Besides the growing concern for sustainability, users are presently more demanding in obtaining real time data from the system, in order to minimise waiting times and overall travel times, as well as ease of use of the system. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) thus has the potential to facilitate users’ experience, as access to real time information is typically spread over several platforms.

**Solutions for challenges faced by on-demand transportation**

One of the ways that on-demand transport can be sufficiently catering to the needs of different groups of people is through the integration of autonomous vehicles into the fleet. We have previously written about how AVs’ future may sync with that of public transportation and how a synergy can be developed between them.

A similar context is observed In Australia, where a 2020 study showed that shared electric autonomous vehicles could significantly change the business case for on-demand transport services, by enabling on-demand door-to-door transport services at a fractional cost of similar existing services.

The aforementioned panel discussion also showed that cities want autonomous vehicles to answer the mobility needs of their citizens and complement mass transit. While Transport for London, the local government body responsible for most of the transport network, is aiming to ensure that 80% of London’s roads are dedicated to public transport and active mobility by 2041, the other 20% could potentially be fulfilled by shared autonomous mobility solutions.

![intermodal-solutions-drt-hubi-hacon-300x200.png]( "intermodal-solutions-drt-hubi-hacon-300x200.png") Booking app for on-demand shared public transport. Photo by Hacon.

**Public transport authorities could partner with private companies to come up with operating models to meet their specific needs at the best cost.** Having a diversified on-demand transport service with a wide range of options, depending on the geographical zone and timetable of the on-demand service to be provided is essential. These options can be combined and include itineraries and fixed timetables activated on request, a service from one point to another in a given zone.

While the challenges may seem daunting to make on-demand public transport a reality in every commuter’s life, one cannot deny that having a commuter-centered service and engaging shared autonomous vehicles remain a big part of that reality.

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