• Gareth Davies

Demand Responsive Transport (DRT). October 2020

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

In February 2020 the Department for Transport published an update of its document ‘A Better Deal for Bus Users’. It included a section on funding trials of ‘On Demand Transport Services’. Such services have been around for some time. In 1985, when Gareth Calan Davies of our Group was a transport coordinating officer with Hereford & Worcester County Council, he was instrumental in setting up a funded shared taxi-bus service connecting Stourport-on-Severn with the rural hinterland west of the River Severn. The scheme was sufficiently novel to attract the attention of the then Transport & Road Research Laboratory. A further initiative was tried in the Vale of Evesham, and coordinated as a community scheme by the local Woman’s Institute. Post buses were another type of scheme combining the services of the Royal Mail with that of a rural bus service. The last postbus service ran in 2017. Quite a number of community schemes have sprung off from these earlier experiments, a successful one being the West Oxfordshire scheme at Witney which uses paid drivers and runs to a scheduled timetable.

Such innovative services throughout the UK have come and gone with the decades and the oscillations in local authority financial support. In 2014 the journal Transport Policy published ’A Survey of Demand Responsive Transport in Britain'. As expected the main finding related sustainability of a scheme to committed financial support. Very few schemes were self-supporting, the majority requiring a subsidy per passenger of between £2.00 and £10.00. The current subsidy per passenger for conventional rural bus services in Herefordshire is approximately £2.10. No more than half of all schemes reported were expected to be financially sustainable in the future. In other words the success of a scheme is directly related to committed financial support, an element not guaranteed at this point in time. The report did, however highlight some lessons learnt which are worth reiterating.

  • DRT provision is increasingly identified as a ‘deep rural product’ rather than an urban solution. although successful urban examples exist

  • Integration, rather than duplication of existing public transport provision is highlighted as an important element of design in context

  • Dial-a-ride and community transport provision has influenced current DRT design and these stakeholders are expected to have a growing role

  • Investment in planning and consulting at the design phase is essential

  • There is a growing role for technology to assist with coordination and booking

  • An increased focus on how taxis can deliver cost-effective DRT provision needs examining

  • Level of flexibility provided needs to be area and investment specific

  • Good communication between stakeholders supported by training as required ensures a positive user experience

  • Marketing is required to increase awareness about booking and use of DRT

  • Recognising the full cost of provision, in particular the expense of certain elements, such as call centres, is important.

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