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Ein attraktives ÖPNV-Angebot in den Nachtstunden? Die STOAG in Oberhausen zeigt, wie das geht.

 

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Oberhausen hat insgesamt ein gutes ÖPNV-Angebot und ein relativ dichtes Liniennetz. Wie viele andere Städte auch, stößt der herkömmliche Linienverkehr aber insbesondere nachts an seine Grenzen. Um eine attraktive Alternative zum bisherigen Stundentakt zu schaffen, setzt die STOAG seit 2020 auf On-Demand ÖPNV als Ergänzung zum herkömmlichen Linienverkehr. Damit sollen nicht nur seit Pandemiebeginn verlorene Fahrgäste zurückgewonnen, sondern auch neue Fahrgäste für den ÖPNV begeistert werden. 

“Wir müssen einfach das Angebot attraktivieren, wir müssen auf die Wünsche der Fahrgäste hören und wir müssen ein Rundumpaket schnüren”, sagt Herr Sander. Nur durch attraktive Alternativen zum privaten Pkw ließe sich die Verkehrswende umsetzen. Insbesondere als Zubringer zu Bahnhöfen und in Zeiten bzw. Regionen mit schwacher Nachfrage, sehe er dabei große Potenziale für On-Demand Mobilität. 

Die bisherige Resonanz zum Revierflitzer in Oberhausen sei durchweg positiv – sowohl von Nutzer:innen und Fahrer:innen als auch aus der Politik. Die neuen digitalen Buchungsmöglichkeiten und damit einhergehenden umfangreichen Fahrgastinformationen von der Buchung bis zur Ankunft am Ziel tragen zu einem positiven Fahrerlebnis bei. Denn auch im ÖPNV seien emotionale Faktoren nicht zu vernachlässigen. 

Mehr zum On-Demand Angebot in Oberhausen erfahren Sie in unserem Podcast. Hören Sie rein.

 

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Milton Keynes is a city built on innovation. Conceived from scratch in the 1960s, it’s now become a logistics hub and the epicentre of British experimentation with futuristic technologies (think food delivery robots).

So it’s no wonder that the city has extended this pioneering approach to transport. In the last few months, Milton Keynes has announced plans to partner with Via and convert their entire subsidised bus network into a demand-responsive one beginning 1 April, 2021. 

The city was already looking at DRT as a way to improve the design of their transport network several years into the future, Wearing explained. But when lockdown devastated passenger numbers, not only in Milton Keynes but across the country, city leadership hastened its plans to make major changes that could conveniently also stave off financial collapse in the short term.

By providing coverage accessible to all in a cost-effective way, DRT allows the city to cut costs and improve quality of service at the same time.

“We wanted to make sure that that we provided savings while also meeting the needs of users in Milton Keynes,” according to Wearing. “We’re looking to halve spending from next year and the wonderful thing about it is we might be offering a better service to people.”

The gamble seems to be paying off so far. Via started by providing DRT coverage in October 2020 when one bus route when out of service — and within the first few weeks of the service, we already began to see record ridership and dramatically decreased wait times. 

Milton Keynes hopes its model can serve as an example to other cities across Britain, especially as the nation works to meet ambitious climate goals — communities must focus on moving people from private vehicles to shared transport, and not just on decarbonising private vehicles. DRT services like MK Connect, which use electric vehicles, are one such example of how to get there.  

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Nick Sifuentes knows what it takes to get transportation policy passed in the United States. As Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC), his day-to-day involves effecting change at every level of the transit ecosystem, with a focus on the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut metropolitan area. 

TSTC’s work involves research and analysis that informs detailed reports on transportation challenges in the US, with a focus on: 

  1. Fixing commutes.
  2. Making transit fair.
  3. Meeting climate goals.
  4. Stopping pedestrian deaths.

“The more people we have in shared vehicles, the fewer vehicles there are on the road in total. Does that alleviate our congestion problem? Absolutely.”

After synthesizing their findings, the team then brings them to the communities they affect — communities that tend to be transit-dependent, low-income, and primarily populated by people of color. 

As Sifuentes puts it: “We basically say: ‘Hey, we’ve identified some problems. Is this something you care about? Is this something we should all fight for together?” If the answer’s yes, then the real work begins. Sifuentes and his team take a multipronged approach, involving everything from tapping the news media to elevate public awareness to collaborating with policymakers and elected officials to make lasting improvements to transit. 

But with COVID-19, many of the advancements TSTC has won in the past several years — including congestion pricing in New York City, a revitalization of the bus networks in New York City and New Jersey, and a commitment from NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) to fully electrify all of their fleets — have been put on pause. 

“[This progress] all depends on capital dollars and right now a lot of agencies, the MTA and NJTransit included, are looking at using capital dollars to try and cover operations costs, where it’s allowed by law. A lot of what we worked very hard for is at risk right now.” 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sifuentes points to one bright spot in particular: as the pandemic prevented many from traveling as frequently and roads emptied out as a result, people have been able to experience what our world could look like without crippling congestion. 

“Our streets don’t have to be clogged with cars all the time. We can have outdoor dining, we can have more bike space…we can have more bus lanes! We need to rethink how we allocate our street space and there’s a huge role for the private sector to play”  

Sifuentes believes microtransit, in particular, is key to keeping this momentum going and making permanent improvements to the way people move around. “The more people we have in shared vehicles, the fewer vehicles there are on the road in total. Does that alleviate our congestion problem? Absolutely.”

In this conversation with Ya-Ting Liu, Via’s Director of Government Affairs and Policy, we dig deep into all of this, plus the top three things that should be on every commuter’s mind. Take a listen above. 

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Gabe Klein’s background isn’t exactly what one would call ‘traditional.’ After working in the startup space, Klein ran the Chicago and Washington, DC Departments of Transportation, before moving back into the private sector to start his company Cityfi, alongside a few of his former government colleagues. 

“I realized there was a real need for the public and private sectors to work together…to make the big, consequential changes that we need in cities around the environment, upward mobility, and equity.” 

Cityfi helps cities and companies navigate change through its work in mobility, technology, and, more broadly, human-centered design. And with the latter point, Klein is clear: people-centric solutions must address centuries of discriminatory policies and practices head-on

“[In the United States] we built freeways through people’s neighborhoods….I live in Washington, DC and you can come in on I-295 — that ran through peoples’ homes. People of color. Those lines of segregation have continued, the redlining is historic and if we’re going to heal these wounds…it means involving [marginalized] people in the process.”

“We need to let people tell us what they want and I think the best way to do that is by showing them what’s possible.”

And in terms of economic mobility and opportunity, public transportation is central to the conversation. As Klein says, “the people that are enduring the worst commutes and the worst impacts of the current system are often minority populations,” So what can we do to fix the status quo? Especially considering the fact that experts have told us how critical efficient transit is when it comes to accessing jobs in America? 

“I think microtransit, for instance, can be really helpful — particularly in transit deserts…we’ve got to be much more flexible. I’m not someone that believes the bus is the only way or the bike is the only way. We need to let people tell us what they want and I think the best way to do that is by showing them what’s possible.” 

In this chat with Via’s Andrei Greenawalt, Gabe Klein expands on how transportation performance metrics could be updated to fit the 21st century, and why he thinks his own electric car would be much more environmentally friendly if 25 people shared it. 

 

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The first things that come to mind when you think of a Mediterranean island nation aren’t exactly traffic or pollution. But Malta is actually among the most congested countries in Europe, with one of the highest rates of cars per capita, according to European Union statistics.

Debono Group set out to break the car ownership habit, working with Via to launch Cool in 2019. The 24/7 service offers both shared and private rides, setting itself apart from the variety of other ride-hailing options thanks to its price, focus on quality of service, and specific positioning as a sustainable alternative, said Laura Jasenaite, Cool’s CEO.

“Most other ride-hailing operators would focus on the occasional user and the tourist while we tried to focus on users who use the service frequently,” she said. “Our end goal is to help improve congestion, to get people to drop their cars and use the Cool service.”

And despite a decline in ridership during the peak of the pandemic, Jasenaite’s views the situation as a net positive for Cool. Residents were able to experience an island free of traffic, reinforcing the service’s core purpose. “People are realizing that a car is becoming a burden rather than a freedom,” Jasenaite added.

More on all things Malta and growing an environmentally-minded service in our latest episode of “The Dispatch.” Take a listen.

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It was 2008 and the small city of Wilson, North Carolina — population, just under 50,000 — had a problem. A lack of widespread broadband internet access was hampering the city’s ability to compete for economic development opportunities and, by extension, new jobs for Wilsonians. 

After being turned away by the corporate behemoths of the telecommunications industry, who just didn’t see how an investment in a rural community could be worthwhile, the city took matters into its own hands

That’s how the Greenlight Project came to be: a community-owned, all-fiber network that makes affordable gigabit internet service available to all Wilsonians. The city’s Chief Planning and Development Officer, Rodger Lentz, explains the motivation behind Greenlight in terms of equity and the need to bridge the “digital divide.” 

But when Lentz and City Manager, Grant Goings, decided to tackle public transit in Wilson, they knew that their best shot at success would mean bringing an experienced private partner on board. Wilson’s transit challenges lay in an inefficient bus network with fixed routes and schedules, resulting in hour-long headways, despite the fact that, as Lentz says, “I can get in a car and be anywhere I want in this city in 15 minutes or less.” 

Much like the city’s bold internet investment, equity was at the center of Wilson’s transit conversation. The legacy bus system primarily served those without regular access to private vehicles — individuals who depend on public transit to get to work, health care, and essential errands. The inefficiency of fixed routes made a difficult situation even more challenging and inconvenient for this lower-income population. City officials knew there must be a better way. And there was: microtransit

In September 2020, Wilson launched RIDE in partnership with TransitTech leader, Via. This on-demand service completely replaced Wilson’s outdated public transit system, expanding coverage to areas the previous system didn’t reach, and significantly reducing wait times for riders.  

The Federal Transit Administration immediately recognized RIDE as the future of rural transportation in the US, awarding the City of Wilson an Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) grant to fund service expansion. As a recipient of this grant, Wilson is also part of the inaugural class of AIM Incubators, described as “a national network of innovative transit agencies that test new mobility solutions and broadly share the results with industry.”

Residents are loving the new service as well. RIDE maintains a 4.96 out of 5 rider rating and one-third of riders use the app very frequently — 5 times or more — with the average rider having taken 4 rides so far. 

And unlike with broadband internet, Wilson didn’t have to jump into the unknown alone. Instead, Via worked with the city to tailor a turnkey solution to the community’s needs. Via provides both the technology to power the network and the operations to manage it, including driver training and vehicle sourcing.

Wilsonians can book trips through mobile application, dedicated web portal, or by phone, and the service accepts payments made by prepaid debit cards — operational solutions crafted to serve those without smartphones or credit cards. The sheer convenience of the service opens up public transit to new riders, who previously shied away from the inflexible, legacy fixed routes.

For Lentz, RIDE represents the future of rural transportation. When he and his colleagues first embarked on this journey several years ago, they struggled to find communities of their size providing reliable and affordable transportation to residents. But now, he thinks microtransit is the answer for car-oriented rural areas across the country. “My father-in-law lives in a city about half the size of Wilson. He uses a wheelchair…a system like this helps the individuals like that.”

In this conversation with Via’s Olivia Blahut, recorded just before the service launched, Lentz talks about the ins and outs of the on-demand service, including how the city funded this innovative project.

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In Israel, traffic is more than an annoying hiccup during a morning commute. Congestion is now so bad across the country, it’s actually leaving a dent in the GDP. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently concluded that Israel has the highest road traffic intensity per network length out of all 37 countries in the OECD. This isn’t just a quality of life concern for citizens. Persistent congestion issues incur costs amounting to about 2% of the country’s GDP. Compare that to the EU’s average of 1% and the US’s range of 0.7% – 0.9%. 

And the cause? The IMF’s report points to public transit’s limited service hours, which drives many Israelis to purchase private vehicles. More cars on the road = more traffic jams, which can make getting from point A to point B an absolute nightmare, especially in the country’s bustling tech and business hub, Tel Aviv.

“Driving in this area is really challenging…some of our riders just stopped riding in their cars and they are fully using bubble.”

Transit leaders began to realize that without serious action, the future doesn’t look too bright. The IMF reports that car ownership has increased well beyond the rates of both population growth and road network expansion since the mid-2000s. The Israeli Ministry of Finance also projects that this number will continue to grow, along with congestion, even if road volume sees an uptick. 

The looming congestion conundrum is the reason why the Ministries of Finance and Transportation turned to leading public transit operator Dan Transportation, along with TransitTech leader Via, to fashion a congestion solution that promoted sharing vehicles rather than driving alone. The solution, bubble, launched as a pilot program in April 2019, and then as a full-fledged service seven months later. 

bubble operates 110 vans, including wheelchair-accessible vehicles, to provide on-demand, shared rides for Tel Aviv residents and those in the surrounding cities of Giv’atayim and Ramat Gan. bubble’s operators used the pilot period to collect rider and driver feedback in order to improve and adapt the service for Tel Aviv’s unique needs, rapidly increasing both rider and driver satisfaction and resulting in daily riders more than doubling in the first month of service.

Both the bubble team and the Ministry of Transportation are excited by data showing that a significant portion of bubble’s ridership lies in those who own private vehicles, as opposed to those who would otherwise take another mode of public transit. “Driving in this area is really challenging…some of our riders just stopped riding in their cars and they are fully using bubble,” notes the service’s General Manager, Itai Rogatka. The data indicates that bubble, and other services like it, could be the future of public transportation, rather than ride-hailing services that steer people away from publicly-funded infrastructure.

And when it comes to traffic congestion, the results are clear. Between August 2019 and February 2020, bubble Dan was responsible for eliminating more than 730,000 vehicle miles from the streets in Tel Aviv alone. It turns out, when sharing a ride is easy, it just works.

In this episode of “The Dispatch,”  Rogatka sits down for a conversation with Via’s Guy Sher to talk more about bubble’s unique business model, buoyed by federal support, as well as how the service has become a critical resource for essential employees during COVID-19. 

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana isn’t exactly bikeable. But Beth Osborne, who currently serves as Director of the national transit advocacy organization, Transportation for America (T4America), recalls trying her hand at two-wheeled transport anyway while searching for a job as a young law student in the city.

Like millions of other Americans, Osborne had found herself in a maddening cycle. She couldn’t get a job, because she needed a car to commute; she couldn’t get a car, because she needed a job to afford one. “It was a very clear message to me that if I could not pay the cover charge to enter the economy, my talents and my labor were unwelcome and unneeded.”

Frustrated with the persistence of this and other flaws in our transportation system, Osborne and her team recently took a new approach to its advocacy on Capitol Hill. Gone are the days of settling for policies that provide a bit of money to make real progress while simultaneously funneling funds into other projects that actively harm our transportation system and those it’s meant to serve. “I can only lose the same way so many times before I give up on that strategy, and I wore out on the losing. And I wore out on the idea that I was winning when it was clear I was losing.” 

“I can only lose the same way so many times before I give up on that strategy, and I wore out on the losing.”

Instead, T4America and their partners developed three clear guidelines for future advocacy. 

  1. Fix it first. T4America does not support legislation that encourages new building projects while neglecting existing infrastructure that desperately needs maintenance.
  2. Safety over speed. While it may work for busy interstates, local roads with driveways and pedestrians simply shouldn’t allow the high speeds they currently do. When drivers routinely break speed limits, local authorities should not reward them by then raising these limits.
  3. Access to jobs and services. Owning a car should not be a prerequisite to buy groceries, receive medical care, go to the bank, or access any other basic need. T4America wants to measure access to jobs in different communities in order to understand the kinds of transportation investments that effectively increase access to employment.

In this conversation with Andrei Greenawalt, Via’s Head of Public Policy, Osborne explains why the most recent House transportation bill is, in her view, “the best thing we’ve seen come out of Congress.” She also details how we can measure access to employment using GIS mapping software and transit data from GTFS feeds, and why on-demand TransitTech may be key post-pandemic. 

 

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Forty-foot buses navigating a city of about 73,000 people — probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “microtransit.” And yet, for the city of Sault Ste. Marie (affectionately known as “the Soo”) in Northern Ontario, Canada, it’s the perfect fit, serving as a prime example of both small-town innovation and the boundless applications of TransitTech

Sault Ste. Marie Transit Services got its start in 1941 as an agency primarily tasked with commuting workers to and from the Algoma Steel factory. In the eighty years since, it has grown to offer seven conventional bus routes, running 18 hours a day, seven days a week, alongside a paratransit service for residents with different abilities. Instead of steelworkers hauling tools, now the vast majority of the city’s public transit riders are students lugging their books to and from Sault College and Algoma University. 

This could essentially be the future of transit.

Nicole Maione, Manager of Transit with the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie, explained that the two years of research her office conducted clearly indicated that on-demand “could essentially be the future of transit.” As a result, the Soo decided to launch its own on-demand pilot this past September. Maione and her colleagues introduced the service strategically, targeting a particular window in the week that historically suffered from low ridership: Sunday evenings, from 7:15pm to midnight. 

Launching an on-demand pilot in this particular time frame, when most of the Soo’s restaurants and businesses are closed, allowed for experimentation without the risk of large-scale disruption. It was also designed for a more efficient use of the city’s buses at a time when they were underutilized and required to make unnecessary stops. 

To use the service, riders simply download the Sault Ste. Marie On-Demand app (iOS and Android) and enter their location and desired destination. The app then provides users with pickup and dropoff points a short walking distance away. Riders can also track their vehicle in real-time, give feedback after a ride through the app, and pay for their trips using either cash or an existing transit pass.In addition to thoughtful service design, informing the public of the service change was critical to success. “We did have a very intricate marketing plan that began two weeks prior to the launch,” Maione explained. Those efforts included press releases and radio, online, and social media advertising, as well as posters in local high schools and universities, on buses, and in all locations where bus passes are sold. 

By the time the September 8th launch rolled around, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone in the Soo who hadn’t received a pamphlet on the service, been served an ad on social channels, or been updated in-person by a member of the city’s transit team. But Sault Ste. Marie Transit Services didn’t stop there. Maioine noted that “transit staff were available out on site, not just the two weeks prior to launch, but afterwards as well to continually educate the public.” 

Aside from awareness-raising, another challenge the Soo faced was the size of the buses the on-demand service would use. While other communities often include smaller residential roads in their on-demand routing, Sault Ste. Marie On-Demand focused on using the same wide roads their fixed route service uses, due to the restricted mobility and increased noise that come with the larger buses they operate. 

Sault Ste. Marie therefore used current transit infrastructure by keeping all pickup and dropoff points to existing bus stops. “It did definitely pose a challenge, however we made it work.” Maione explained, noting that one key advantage of using city buses has been higher utilization rates, as the buses are able to transport many more riders at one time than a smaller vehicle would.

“Overall, residents seem to have really adapted well — specifically the students. They really seem to enjoy this service,” said Maione. “A vast majority of them seem to prefer this.” 

With the introduction of Sault Ste. Marie On-Demand, wait times have been reduced from one hour to an average of 14 minutes and, even with this substantial increase in efficiency, the Soo has not compromised the quality of their service. As Maione put it, “our ratings are typically about four out of five stars, which we’re quite proud of.” 

Wait times have been reduced from one hour to an average of 14 minutes.

When it comes to future growth, Maione said that she envisions on-demand technology being used more and more throughout the transportation industry. 

“Agencies are going to continue to try and look for a better, more efficient way to service their communities, and I include Sault Ste. Marie in that. At this point, we’re continuing Sunday nights; however, based on our fleet, we’re going to definitely look to expand,” she shared.

As Maione and her colleagues conceive of growing their service, it may be in the hours they operate, the areas they serve, and/or in the vehicles they use to serve them. The expansion has limitless potential. “I think there are just so many different models that you can utilize with on-demand — it provides so many more opportunities for transit,” Maione said.

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At Via, we partner with transit agencies and operators around the world to power different types of public mobility services. This means we’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months strategizing around how to make sure our rides are as safe as possible for passengers and drivers alike. 

Dr. Rachel Gordon, Infectious Disease Doctor and Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, has been helping us understand the latest research as the medical community continues to learn more about the COVID-19 virus. Her insights have been invaluable to our work — not only is she an expert in one of the most important fields in the world right now, but she also practices in New York City, one of the places hit the earliest and most intensely by the pandemic.  

Listen to the podcast now and hear Dr. Gordon’s take on how public transportation should proceed from a medical and safety perspective. Interviewed by Via’s head of global operations, Alex Lavoie, Dr. Gordon shares some surprising insights on ways we can keep the world moving.

Editor’s Note: In the podcast, Dr. Gordon accidentally says Florida records 50k new COVID-19 cases daily. The current daily case count is approximately 15k.

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For most cities around the world, space is at a premium. This couldn’t be more true than in one of the top five most populated cities in Brazil: Fortaleza. Fortaleza is known for its breathtakingly unique urban space. Think: a sprawling ecological preserve smack dab in the center of town, the city’s entire northern border running along the stunning waters of the Atlantic. These same features that define the beauty of the city restrict the amount of physical space available, thus posing a challenge for transit operators and city officials tasked with providing affordable and high-quality transportation options.

Transit syndicate Sindiônibus, which represents bus companies in Fortaleza and the surrounding metropolitan region, launched the on-demand public transportation service TopBus+ in December of 2019. Using the Top Bus+ app (iOS and Android), riders can request a shared ride from their smartphone and travel anywhere within the city’s 11 service areas, as well as major shopping malls and nearby universities that sit just outside these zones. 

“The thing we believe in is collective transportation,” said Dimas Barreira, President of Sindiônibus. “We saw a trend of on-demand transportation, but we wanted to make it work for shared public transit. We’d been talking about that for three years before we started this service.” 

And making on-demand technology work for shared transit is exactly what Sindiônibus aimed for. Barreira highlighted that the new on-demand service gives riders much more freedom, removing the need for private vehicles. “People can use the service in a lot of ways. It can be helpful for anyone who wants a very flexible mode of transportation, which is also friendly to the city’s needs.” 

The TopBus+ on-demand service works as a first-and-last mile solution, transporting residents to and from transit stations, while also providing the option for riders to use the service for an entire trip. The move from fixed-routes to a dynamic system that can adapt to changing traffic patterns in Fortaleza’s complex urban geography is also contributing to the new service’s overall success. In fact, since launching in December, TopBus+ has given more than 50,000 rides, with the vast majority of riders rating their experience 5 stars.

A feature that has Sindiônibus and the operators particularly excited about on-demand is the ability to connect with riders directly through a user-friendly app. As Barreira says, “in public transportation, we’re not used to having one-to-one contact with the customer, and it’s something we can do with the on-demand service.” 

Not only does this new communication channel foster a deeper relationship with the customer, but these interactions can also inform decision-making. 

“Through the application, we exchange messages, we receive feedback, and we’re able to listen to this feedback and develop the service.”  One example of such a development came from riders requesting that TopBus+ add the city’s Bilhete Único — an integrated “single ticket” that can be used throughout Fortaleza’s public transportation system — as a payment method. Many city residents receive credit from employers, student discounts, and/or senior citizen discounts on the Bilhete Único and this change enabled these individuals to incorporate TopBus+ into their lives.

Quickly adapting to new realities is possible with flexible on-demand transit.

Within a few months of launching, the on-demand service has rapidly adapted to changing transit priorities as a result of COVID-19. In addition to temporarily switching to a private transportation model and heightening sanitary measures, the pandemic has prompted an expansion of TopBus+. “We had a geographic area in the city that we already knew wanted the on-demand service,” Barreira said. This portion of the city also has hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which ultimately drove the decision to include it in the service area, in order to meet the larger community’s current needs. 

Barreira maintains that public transportation must continue to innovate in order to keep pace with a continuously evolving urban environment, and he is confident that services like TopBus+ are the answer. 

“We have people in regions nowadays that mostly take long rides — they come from faraway regions to downtown,” he noted. “We’re still going to have long rides from those neighborhoods, but also short rides within the neighborhood, and our on-demand service can adapt to that very easily.”

Longer term plans include integrating TopBus+ with every other transportation option available in the Fortaleza metro area through one rider-facing mobility as a service (MaaS) platform. In doing so, the city hopes to provide an even more seamless public transit experience. 

In the meantime, Sindiônibus is looking forward to expanding the on-demand service. “In the near future, we can see 200 to 300 TopBus+ buses in Fortaleza, and we think it will match the city’s larger public transportation system very well.” Moving beyond the rigid constraints of a traditional bus system and embracing on-demand shared transit is a solution for cities like Fortaleza that must find new ways to efficiently and sustainably take their residents where they need to go.

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It took a global pandemic for leaders in the United Kingdom to realize that when it comes to operating public transportation, sometimes less is more. 

Go-Coach, the local transport operator in Kent, previously oversaw a fixed-line bus network in the town of Sevenoaks. Many of its bus routes ran once an hour, with specific routes stopping in some rural areas only once per week. In an effort to serve more residents with greater frequency, leaders at Go-Coach were preparing to add a demand-responsive transport (DRT) service to its network, a move positioned as a game changer for the community. 

But as the COVID-19 crisis hit, the mobility needs in the community quickly changed. With most residents staying home, Go-Coach experienced a 90% drop in ridership. This presented two problems: they couldn’t completely cut service because essential employees in Sevenoaks still needed a safe and reliable way to get to work, and Go-Coach needed to make swift changes to reduce costs. 

Austin Blackburn, Go-Coach Managing Director, explained that they saw this unfortunate time for their community as an opportunity to rethink public transport. That meant going back to the drawing board and launching their upcoming DRT service two months ahead of schedule, replacing the smaller vehicles from their initial plan with their normal fixed-line buses that allowed for social distancing and helped riders feel safe traveling to work. 

Within just two weeks of hatching the idea, Go-Coach was able to launch a new service called Go2 with a zone that included four hospitals, temporarily replacing all their fixed-routes with a more cost-effective on-demand service. 

Serving more riders by driving half as much. 

Go2 proved to be an immediate hit, both with riders and Go-Coach. 

In just one month of service, Go2 began servicing much more efficient rides than the legacy service. With the original fixed-line bus route, a typical bus carried just 1.3 riders per hour. But with the shift to a demand-responsive service, Go2 was able to use fewer buses to service those rides – each bus now carrying over 2 riders per hour, with fewer miles driven. Overall, that meant a 77% increase in utilisation in just one month.  

Before the new service launched, infrequent bus times and more restrictive fixed-routes meant Go-Coach wasn’t able to reach all community members, especially those in rural areas.

“The services that we already operate at the moment on fixed-lines really aren’t attractive to some riders like commuters, people living in rural areas. We’re looking for a way of doing it in a better way, and also in a more economic way, because it’s quite expensive to run big buses carrying fewer people in the evenings and the mornings,” Blackburn said.  

Thanks to a demand-responsive solution, the average time a rider waits for their pickup has also decreased. Before, buses only ran every hour on the hour. With the new service, riders now wait an average of just 11 minutes. 

On top of that, drivers are spending less idle time on the road following fixed-routes, rather than heading directly to pickups and dropoffs, resulting in a 46% reduction in miles driven –  a win for both Go-Coach and the environment. Go-Coach has seen a significant reduction in the hours drivers have had to be behind the wheel – since they don’t have to follow fixed-lines to scheduled stops without waiting for riders. The result: providing much more efficient and accessible transportation. 

Blackburn says the reaction to the service has been positive. Within the first month of service, the average daily rider rating was 5 out of 5 stars.

“We haven’t had one negative email or call from the public; they seem to really like it,” Blackburn says. “Before, the most frequent buses were once an hour, some run once a week. That’s obviously a huge bonus for those who need to travel around.”

Riders appreciate the ease and flexibility of the updated service. “I previously had to get a train and a bus to get to work, and now my journey is much easier as I only need to book a single ride on Go2,” said Maxine Fuller. 

Blackburn shared he’s not only hearing from riders; drivers like it too, especially since riders are so thrilled with the service. “It’s more positive than we thought it would be, and now every average driver ride-rating is 5/5 in the app, which is really very good.”

When riders, drivers, and operators are happy, you know you have a successful service. That’s something Go-Coach can be thankful for. 

“Via’s technology just works. It works for the public, it works for the operators, it works for the drivers. They all really, really like it.” 

How transport will change in Sevenoaks after COVID-19.

Just because riders like the service now hasn’t stopped Go-Coach from thinking about ways they can continue to adapt and make it even better in the future. As communities around the world are also thinking about what life after lockdown looks like, places like Kent will have to adapt from pandemic-focused services to growing safety concerns and new ridership needs. 

Blackburn says they have a plan (and an app) for that. Having a small, dedicated team has allowed them to be agile and adaptable when they needed it most. And they’ve devised a three phase plan to digitize their network with a combination of on-demand and fixed-route buses: 

 

  1. Phase one: Demand-responsive buses. Using on-demand technology within their fleet of large buses has meant that Go-Coach can accommodate physical distancing measures more easily to ensure that riders feel safe and comfortable with public transport.
  2. Phase two: Expand the service area and operate additional on-demand buses, some with fixed-routes. As cities and businesses start opening up, Go-Coach will scale up their on-demand service, bringing back some fixed-line buses when passenger volumes along the busiest routes pick up. Sevenoaks envisions a future in which fixed-line complements on-demand, possibly both in one app, all housed together for easier operations and an improved rider and driver experience.
  3. Phase three: Reintegrate smaller on-demand vehicles, and fixed-line buses. Go-Coach’s third phase returns to their original, pre-COVID plan. It introduces smaller vehicles as originally conceived in order to accommodate both on-demand rides and fixed-line buses. Giving a full range of public and private offerings to community members, phase three of Go-Coach would increase access to goods and services across Sevenoaks. 

Before COVID, towns like Sevenoaks were only beginning to plan for on-demand and tech-enabled transit among their public transportation offerings. The coronavirus pandemic may have pushed Go-Coach to make a change in their initial plans, but it also sped up the implementation of a more convenient, accessible, and cost-effective transit option for their community in a time of dire need. 

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