TfL seeks partners for a new kind of bus service

Image: Al King

Transport for London announced last week that it is exploring the potential of using a new ‘demand responsive’ TfL bus service to enhance London’s public transport network, initially in car-dependent outer London.

Uber, Citymapper and Chariot are already operating app-based shared ride services in the capital. TfL is now approaching a range of businesses – including traditional bus operators and tech companies – to see if the latest innovations in ride-booking technology can be used to create a new TfL bus service that complements the capital’s existing bus network. The new services, for nine passengers or more, would not replace any existing TfL services.

Businesses are being asked to express their interest in trialling a new TfL service that would operate flexibly in an area in need of improved public transport. The partnership with TfL could, for example, be an on-demand minibus booked through an app, or perhaps a service running on a semi-fixed route that can divert to pick up individual passengers.

Recent rapid advances in technology have increased the potential of trialling such services. TfL says that if a trial goes ahead it will involve a small number of vehicles and it will be held in an area of outer London where car dependency is high and other forms of public transport are less viable. Any trial would run for no longer than 12 months.

The transport co-ordinating body says that a trial would help it to better understand how such services could complement the existing bus network. It will also help TfL to set standards for a potential future TfL service around safety, accessibility, air quality, affordability, the use of concessions (such as the Freedom Pass) and customer service. It is proposed that the mayor’s ‘minimum professional London bus driver wage’ and ‘Licence for London’ would apply to this trial.

“We want to understand the potential of new TfL demand responsive services to improve public transport for all Londoners,” said Michael Hurwitz, TfL’s director of transport innovation. “We are currently exploring the feasibility of a small demand responsive transport trial in areas of outer London where car dependency is higher and other forms of public transport are less viable.

“By approaching potential partners, we are engaging the market to establish interest in delivering a trial of a new TfL service. Any potential trial would be a new TfL service designed to support the existing local transport network, improve accessibility and London’s air quality.”

More than two billion passenger trips are made on London’s 9,300 “traditional” buses every year, which are regulated by TfL, but patronage fell in 2017. This was despite a fare freeze and the introduction of the new Hopper fare, allowing an hour of unlimited bus and tram journeys for the price of just one.

Uber launched uberPOOL in London in December 2015. It’s a shared taxi, which operates under a PHV licence from TfL. Users get a discount for sharing their ride. London-based Citymapper launched a PHV-licenced shared taxi service in the city last month (Smart Ride), using six-seater people carriers.

Meanwhile, since January 2018, Ford Smart Mobility has been using a fleet of 14 Ford Transit minibuses to operate demand responsive services on four routes in London. They are licenced under a London Service Permit from TfL.

Image: Al King

About the Author

This post was written by Robert Jack. Robert is Managing Editor and Publisher of Passenger Transport. He has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher in the passenger transport sector for 18 years. He has played a key role in many transport-related conferences and events.

Robert Jack

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