Demand response has been gaining popularity amongst energy-related terms for quite a while now and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down in its popularity. It’s to no surprise as new technologies used to ensure energy efficiency are a hot topic in the rather unstable times and the ability to adequately address the demand in real-time is a strong game changer.
Similarly to the energy industry, some sort of demand-responsive programmes are being adapted in other sectors, including the area that interests us the most - transportation.
What is demand-responsive transport?
To begin with, it’s worth noting that it may come under many names: demand-responsive transit, Dial-a-Ride transit (DART) or flexible transport services. Meaning the same, all refer to quasi-public form of (usually group) transportation, where the route and time-schedule depends on demand rather than fixed patterns.
Demand-responsive transport (further named as DTR) may refer to all kinds of vehicles including taxis, buses or even trucks. The way it works with this system is that passengers can easily arrange for one of these services with the help of a special mobile app (in some cases it may as well be a phone call - especially used by the elderly). With this system, passenger requests are collected and strategically grouped together so vehicles can best serve those locations. Then a complex routing and scheduling process begins to calculate pick up and drop off times.
Passengers are provided with custom pick-up points and time frames, enabling them to traverse the zone in an efficient manner. Certain DRT systems may also feature designated termini which can act as hubs of connectivity at either end of their routes - these could include popular urban locations such as city centres or airports/transport interchanges, providing users with onward access beyond the boundaries of the operating zone.
The communication behind the system is usually done via Fleet Telematics Systems (FTS), which streamline the communication between a commercial vehicle fleet and their central dispatching office. By installing FTS, companies gain access to mobile Vehicle System components as well as stationary Fleet Communication Systems which can be either stand-alone software maintained by the motor carrier or an internet service executed by system suppliers. The associated database stores all collected data such as vehicle positions and messages for future use.
Some may say that this is nothing else but a well-known taxi (or now Uber), in fact when taxi cabs were first introduced, they revolutionized personal transportation because their flexibility allowed passenger needs to be met from point-to-point. This has led them to become recognized as DRT and some jurisdictions still acknowledge them as such.
Currently it’s more common for demand-responsive transport to refer to a group or shared transportation rather than ‘serve-one’ taxis.
Examples of demand-responsive transport
The mentioned-before taxis should probably open up the list as they’re what might be deemed the precursors of DTR. Now, one can add Uber/Lyft and other similar services to the equation.
School buses are another great example of demand-responsive transport. While in some European countries these are only known from American movies, in other parts of the world school buses make for a convenient way for both children and their parents to ensure safe and efficient daily school commute.
Similarly to school buses, their equivalents for adults come under arranged transportation for workers. The perfect example of that would be the below scenario:
15km away from the regional city center is a factory employing over 200 hundred people from the city. Everyday, around the time it takes to commute from the city to the factory, several buses are being dispatched to ‘strategic’ spots across the city, from where they take the workers directly to the factory.
Next DTR example is paratransit or social transport. Paratransit is an accessible public service designed to ensure individuals with disabilities have a reliable mode of transportation. This shared ride system serves as a lifeline, providing essential travel independence and flexibility for those who can't utilize traditional buses. This includes vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs.
Finally a great example of demand-responsive transport is the ‘first mile - last mile’ solution especially well-fitted for the rural areas. The solution is designed to ensure the smooth ride on the beginning and end of longer journeys, i.e. the portions of the routes it takes to get to the bus stations/airports. This is very convenient for those who travel to unknown locations and find it hard to get to a hotel for instance. Dedicated transportation enabling picking up passengers and taking them directly to the destination spot is also a great marketing point for hotels and resorts. (Similar case is with the shopping malls dispatching free-of-charge buses across the city, by which the customers can easily get to the shopping centres).
Benefits of demand-responsive transport
There are quite a few benefits to this form of transportation. Those include ecological, financial, social and efficiency-based advantages.
DRT has its ways in revolutionizing transportation for those living in underserved communities. By bridging the gap between limited public transit access, individuals can now more easily take advantage of opportunities such as employment and essential services that have been out of reach due to inadequate transport options previously available.
For children and people with disabilities, special transportation arranged to suit their needs increases safety by limiting the need to go for public transit, which in this case may not be designed well to match the requirements. For people with disabilities it may be too hard and too dangerous to go on a public bus. Similarly, with the children, who by the use of a school bus are limiting any hazardous events like getting lost.
Demand-responsive transport is also a great way to reduce the amount of vehicles on the road. When planned with enough care, a well-designed local DRT may encourage people to leave their cars and use this form of transport instead. By addressing the demand directly, this way also reduces the so-called empty runs. An empty run is referred to any route that a vehicle makes without the passengers or load, i.e. simply because it was planned in a strict-pattern time schedule. With DRT, no such things occur, as vehicles are only dispatched when there’s real demand for it. This saves time (and money) as well as reduces the emissions.