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Building a better bus: Explore what’s possible with on-demand

  •   3 min read

Use this tool to play around with a simple tech-enabled, on-demand bus line network, selecting your fleet size, vehicle count, and more.

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Despite being an affordable and efficient mode of travel, fixed line buses — a staple of urban and suburban areas — may regularly drive around empty, especially during off-peak hours and holidays. But city buses are a lifeline for passengers who rely on them, even when service is infrequent.

It’s time for technology to raise the bar — reducing the number of buses that drive around empty, and giving back control to passengers who rely on them. While we’ve already shown you how on-demand microtransit could work, both entirely by itself and in combination with fixed-route transit, dynamic bus fleets combine the best of both worlds (especially for cities reluctant to take the plunge). 

Using microtransit technology, buses like the ones in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada and Sevenoaks, UK are moving away from rigid routes and going on-demand. Rather than buses infrequently circling the city, sometimes only once an hour, transit leaders are cutting costs by letting passengers hail the city bus when they need it.

Of course, city buses are too large to squeeze down residential streets. That’s why the technology allows transit planners to restrict where vehicles can travel to meet passengers, still giving riders control while improving efficiency and utilization. 

We built a cool toy model to show you how it works.

Start with the basics. 

It’s midnight and Sam just finished work at the local hospital. As he walks out the door, he sees the bus pulling away from the bus stop (the worst). The next one won’t come for at least 30 minutes, so he takes a seat. 

About four miles away, Violet says goodbye to friends and sits at her bus stop. Checking the bus schedule, she sees the next bus isn’t supported to arrive for another 25 minutes! In fact, it’s the same bus that just missed Sam. Despite no other passengers in sight, the bus carries along on its regular route until it eventually reaches Violet — a bus that could have made for a happier Sam and a more efficient ride for Violet if they were able to request a ride and the bus ditch its route. Instead missed the mark on both. 

Whether it’s two passengers or 200, the bus always rides on the same route. How is this convenient or efficient? It’s not. Why can’t Sam and Violet just hail the bus like they hail a ride?

On-demand technology can dramatically improve the efficiencies of bus networks, especially during off-peak hours. Cities generally need fewer buses roaming the streets, and the ones serving rides are driving fewer miles, and serving way more passengers, who are waiting for a ride for far less time. It’s a win-win-win.

Seeing the model at scale.

Now imagine the impact of dynamic bus routes across an entire city. Using the toy model below, you can see what a basic on-demand city bus network could look like at various supply and demand levels, with representative limits on detours, fleet size, and vehicle capacities.

Your fleet, your rules.

  • Supply: How many buses are in your fleet? 
  • Demand: How many requests do you expect potential riders to make? Does that number change based on time of day? Naturally, we want to be able to serve as many ride requests as possible.
  • Bus walk: How many minutes do you think would be an acceptable walk time to a bus station?

So, how’d ya do?

Based on the choices you made when playing with the models, did you learn anything about how they affected the service? Here are a few things to consider: 

  • Wait time: How long did passengers have to wait for a ride given the level of demand and number of vehicles in your fleet?
  • Rides served: How many people who requested a ride were given an option that they accepted, and then completed? 
  • Utilization (rides per vehicle hour): How efficient was your use of vehicles?

Now that you’ve scratched the surface, ready to learn more? Using Via’s proprietary transportation modeling engine ViaViewer, we can work together to simulate a real microtransit deployment in your city. Combined with your knowledge of your community and our experience powering the most rides in the industry, we can build a real-world microtransit network that works.

Let’s start building.

50% % Served
50% % Unserved
0 Rides served
50% Riders / Van hours

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