Is on-demand public transport the answer to our problems?

Advocates for expanding DDRT travel in Scotland argue the technology can tackle loneliness and climate change.

On-demand public transport

Digital-demand-responsive transport (DDRT) could help the Scottish Government achieve its 20-minute neighbourhood plans, reducing congestion, emissions, pollution and significantly boosting mobility.

According to a report by CoMoUK, the technology – which allows passengers to request vehicles to and from any destination for a small charge – has already proven successful in achieving some of those goals. The country’s first service, launched in April 2021 in Dunoon, used an app called Pingo and resulted in a 15-fold increase in weekly passenger numbers compared with the dial-a-ride system it replaced.

More recently, schemes have also begun in Moray, East Lothian, Berwickshire and Campbeltown. Typically, trips are between 2.5 and 6miles, take 10-20minutes, and service users are waiting around 20minutes for pickup in both urban and rural areas. Fares are significantly lower than private hire options, ensuring access to as broad a demographic as possible.

The potential impact on both keeping people connected – with 6% of Scottish adults currently seeing friends and family just once a week or less – and climate action is notable. Not least given longstanding calls for more shared mobility options due to the introduction and expansion of Low Emissions Zones in many of Scotland’s cities, with charges for driving polluting vehicles have a devastating effect on some people’s ability to travel.

Transport charity Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK) has published a series of recommendations on how to increase coverage for DDRT. These include subsidising services in the same was as standard public transport on fixed routes. Clearer guidance for procurement, funding, business models, permits and standards is also required. Transport Scotland should adopt a stronger leadership position to deliver on national objectives in this area, with more trials needed to explore opportunities in this nascent area.

You can read the full report here.

‘DDRT is already thriving internationally and will play an increasingly important role in the future of public transport,’ said Rachael Murphy, Scotland director of CoMoUK. ‘The potential benefits for Scottish communities are clear and it’s particularly exciting to see the potential for DDRT to support 20-minute neighbourhoods. Our report shows that on-demand bus services can make a real difference in reducing social isolation, improving access to jobs, and helping to tackle climate change.

We must break down the barriers to [DDRT] development, including policies, regulations, and lack of political will, as well as a lack of understanding, public awareness, or funding. Fares are not prohibitively high, making DDRT a viable option for many, and it has huge potential to reduce our dependence on private cars, she continued. ‘We need to embrace this innovative approach to transportation and make sure it reaches all corners of our society, so that we can build a fairer, more connected, and more environmentally-friendly Scotland.’

More on shared transport:

Edinburgh advised to re-install bike sharing or be left behind


LEZ transport poverty is real, so how do we end it?

Image: Matthieu Joannon


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