How demand-responsive solutions are shaping the future of rural transport & paratransit (and why it matters)
All across Europe, the need for cost-efficient social transport services and rural public transport is increasing. Northern European and Scandinavian countries in particular, owing to low population density, are affected by a lack of efficient transport solutions.
Smoothly functioning transport infrastructures are a driver of economic development and a notable contributor to people’s overall quality of life. But global urbanization trends have created peripheral areas where residents have limited or no access to public transport. For transport operators, providing services in those areas can be financially unsustainable. For residents, however, public transportation may well be the only way to reach critical services, which can be located tens of kilometers from their homes.
Social transport, or paratransit, is another weak point of existing transport solutions. Local authorities are struggling to provide reliable and financially viable transport services for people unable to independently use or access public transport.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for better paratransit and rural public transport. A recent story in the Financial Times (to read in full, copy the headline into search engine) described England’s “vaccine deserts’,’ where 5.5 million people are more than an hour by public transport away from a vaccination point.
For some rural residents, longer commute times and lack of transportation options may be barriers to employment, in addition to contributing to social exclusion and poor health outcomes. All of this lowers the quality of life in rural areas, which existing solutions are not able to address in a sustainable way.
While walking or cycling may serve as alternatives to public transport in cities under some circumstances, this is often impossible in rural areas: Insufficient lighting, paving, and other safety issues can count these alternatives out. For paratransit for the elderly or others with mobility issues, viable alternatives are even less scalable. Finland, for example, reimburses people for taxi rides if they are otherwise unable to meet their medical needs.
The case for demand-responsive transport solutions
Demand-responsive transport (DRT) offers technology-based relief for these problems by providing a service independent from fixed bus routes and schedules. DRT allows for increased flexibility and accessibility, noticeably improving quality of life in rural areas and for people with mobility needs currently unmet by regular public transport.
For public transport operators, the on-demand service increases efficiency by dispatching a vehicle with the right seating capacity. As such, DRT also has environmental benefits. Appropriately sized vehicles are deployed at optimal times, which decreases the amount of emissions and minimizes wasted resources.
For countries that grapple with inefficiencies in transport infrastructure, particularly due to low population density, DRT provides a way to improve quality of life in remote areas. It also offers detailed monitoring capabilities for the authorities, making services more transparent.
In Estonia, one of Europe’s least densely populated countries, public transport market leader Ridango is developing a social transport and demand-responsive public transport ticketing solution to optimize the country’s transport infrastructure.
Ridango’s on-demand service, with final delivery planned for Spring 2021, will feature new customer interfaces (a web portal and mobile app) and several solution-specific functionalities, such as automatic route and task planning. With this move, Ridango is placing itself and Estonia squarely among frontrunners in the DRT landscape and reshaping the way humans get from A to B.
As trailblazing initiatives like Ridango’s cutting-edge solutions continue to improve, DRT is the very definition of a win-win. Communities underserved by paratransit and public transport benefit immensely from the agility and accessibility of demand-responsive solutions, while allowing transport service providers to operate with maximum efficiency—in a financially and environmentally sustainable way.