The Future of Demand-Responsive Transport: Beyond Paratransit & Social Transport
The need for reliable public transportation isn’t going anywhere. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, 66% of the global population will be living in cities. As our cities continue to grow, rural populations will further decrease, making it difficult and costly to maintain public transport service.
Over recent years, demand-responsive transport (DRT) has been stepping up to bridge that widening gap, providing transportation that doesn’t rely on fixed routes and schedules. In the past, DRT solutions have largely been used for social transport and paratransit, providing door-to-door support for elderly, and passengers with mobility issues. But the full potential of DRT extends much further.
With its integration capabilities, DRT can offer flexibility and accessibility by plugging into and enhancing existing public transport routes to create smooth, customizable journeys for all passengers.
DRT integration for seamless journeys
While cities can depend on ride-sharing services like Bolt and Uber, most people living outside of cities, even in the outer suburbs, don’t have the luxury. Bolt will not collect you in a remote village and bring you back, and even if it did, it would be a prohibitively expensive ride. Bus schedules often make trip planning a nightmare, sometimes requiring people to spend a night at a hotel, if a return journey isn’t available at a convenient time.
Imagine, however, a world where a small bus picks you up outside your home, taking you to the city. While there, you can use the same ticket on public transport to run your errands, and then catch another small bus back home later that same day. Full DRT integration in public transport networks means just this: Passengers no longer need to rely on buses and trains that run on fixed, often inconvenient, schedules.
Customers would have access to a country-wide network of transport providers, and the ability to weave more complex journeys into seamless experiences that don’t take logistical miracles and extra expenses to pull off.
In essence, DRT integration functions like a nationwide airport shuttle, working seamlessly with existing networks to allow more flexibility in travelling with public transport.
The future of DRT
DRT solutions, such as those recently launched by Ridango in Estonia, are already making headway towards more efficient public transit systems. But the sky’s the limit.
When fully integrated with existing systems, DRT can make journeys smoother than ever, regardless of where point A is in relation to B. The potential uses of DRT solutions range from providing a safe alternative for students to get to school, to building out a transportation network where passengers can hop between buses and trains and even micromobility vehicles such as electric scooters—all with one ticket and zero hassle.
When a reliable DRT system is in place, it may eventually decrease the number of privately-owned vehicles on the road, adding a much-needed sustainability layer to the equation.
Issues standing in the way of widespread DRT integration
If DRT is so wonderful, why isn’t it everywhere yet?
There are a few things standing in the way of development and full integration. Much of social transport in Europe, for example, relies on funding from the European Union. Because contract terms stipulate that such funding is reserved strictly for paratransit, development of more widespread systems is hindered. And because public transport is, by definition, publicly funded, any bigger decisions—especially when it comes to allocation of funds—largely come down to local politics, further muddying the waters.
Regardless of these hurdles, the potential benefits are significant, and the initial cost of implementation is offset by the increase in efficiency, customer loyalty, and quality of life.
If public transport authorities and operators can continue to work together to further uncover the compelling business case for DRT integration, the future of mobility is bright.