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Demand Responsive Transport – when will it catch the bus?

A new survey of attitudes and expectations provides a snap shot view of expectations around demand responsive transport (DRT) in the short to medium term

Beate Kubitz
22 July 2021


In theory, using smart technology to match people’s journeys to buses and tailor routes to passenger needs should be a no-brainer. Matching supply and demand with little empty seat ‘wastage’ would appear to be a panacea for modern transport.

The reality has been much less straightforward. 

The business cases and expectations of funding will also be different in different areas, but investment is almost universally required

Companies rushed in, keen to prove their smart algorithms would create profitable services where public transport struggled. There was a wave of excitement – and then demand responsive transport fell into the trough of disillusionment.

Big players like Ford bought Chariot, then abruptly suspended it. Some trials – MyFirstMile in Bristol – were short-lived. Even the much-lauded ArrivaClick in Sittingbourne was brought to a close. The Gartner Hype Cycle could have been designed with DRT in mind.

Meanwhile, public authorities, seeing the potential to provide public transport in less dense areas without committing to cripplingly expensive frequent fixed line buses, have been eyeing up the positive aspects of the service.

The DRT Survey was launched to take the measure of attitudes, hopes for and expectations of flexible, on-demand bus services. It could have been subtitled ‘where is DRT on the Gartner Hype Cycle?’.

There are two key themes that emerge from the survey. The first is that there is both hope and expectation that DRT can significantly improve services, expanding the public transport network to serve communities that are currently poorly served. The second is that any such expansion will come at a cost. There are mixed – and potentially self-contradictory - opinions on the ongoing funding of services.

Survey highlights

The survey highlights that we are likely to see a doubling in DRT services (from a low base) but interest is growing. It will require investment and different places will try different models and integrations with existing public transport. Some of the services provided use sophisticated booking and management platforms, however a significant number are quite analogue in approach.

The business cases and expectations of funding will also be different in different areas, but investment is almost universally required.

It’s hard to pin point the progress of DRT on the slope to enlightenment – and it’s likely that it will be different in different countries. The survey indicates that it will be a while before it reaches the plateau of productivity across the board.

This is a recurring theme seen in innovation in transport – from railways onwards. Expensive, high investment projects that seem to take a while to develop traction but - in the rear view mirror of history – achieve profound social and economic change with incredible rapidity.

Download the survey here

Beate Kubitz is an innovative transport consultant

Demand Responsive Transport: A survey of attitudes and expectations 2021 was produced for PADAM Mobility by Landor LINKS. The survey was carried out in April and May 2021.

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