Transport for London is set to become the latest transport provider to test the potential of tech-driven, Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) services. Last week the capital’s transport co-ordinating body announced plans for a year-long trial of a new on-demand minibus network in Sutton, south London.
TfL this week launched a four-week consultation into the plans and says the new service will let people or groups use an app to book seats on a minibus that will stop at more convenient locations, including areas not currently served by public transport.
Beginning in May this year, the service is proposed to run from 6.30am to 9.30pm, seven days a week and would carry up to 14 passengers. TfL is proposing to use up to eight fully accessible Mercedes Cityline low floor Sprinter minibuses. Each will be equipped with free Wi-Fi and USB charging points.
TfL has undertaken a procurement process to secure an operator and identify the location for the trial, engaging a number of stakeholders through the process to ensure core requirements would be met.
This led to the award of a 12-month contract to ViaVan, a partnership of Mercedes-Benz Vans and technology firm Via, which launched a ride-sharing service in London a year ago, and bus operator Go-Ahead London. Their proposed service area covers a large part of the London Borough of Sutton and includes a potential extension into the London Borough of Croydon.
These outer London boroughs have been engaged in the process and are supportive of the trial in the proposed service area. TfL is also exploring the possibility of delivering a second on-demand bus trial to provide further evidence about the initiative’s viability.
The consultation is asking Londoners for their views on the specific area of Sutton that the service should cover and suggested stopping points. The trial, which will last for a year, will help TfL gauge the level of interest for an on-demand service and assess how it would work alongside the existing public transport network in Sutton. The area was also chosen because it has relatively high car dependency, and TfL believes the service could encourage people to switch to a more sustainable way of travelling.
As well as using the app, passengers will also be able to book trips over the phone. The cost of using this new type of transport will be slightly higher than a traditional bus to reflect a better experience for passengers. Freedom Passes will be accepted.
However, TfL does not propose to integrate the trial service with the Oyster card payment system. And children under the age of 16 will only be allowed to use the service when accompanied by a guardian, parent or other adult who has booked a trip.
Drivers for the new innovative service will receive the same pay and conditions as other London bus drivers. This includes the mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘Licence for London’, which guarantees drivers a pay grade equivalent to their level of service and experience.
“We are always looking at how we can harness the latest technological developments in transport to improve the service for our customers,” said Michael Hurwitz, TfL’s director of innovation. “This trial will help us to understand if a demand-responsive service will support the objectives of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy in reducing car dependency and if it can be deployed to support the established bus network.”
Chris Snyder, ViaVan’s chief executive, said his company’s technology was redefining mobility across Europe, seamlessly integrating with public transport infrastructure to provide fully on-demand and dynamic transportation solutions.
He continued: “We are proud to partner with TfL, an innovative transport authority, to provide residents of Sutton with a convenient, affordable, and congestion-reducing shared transportation alternative that creates a viable alternative to private car usage.”
Via and Go-Ahead have already collaborated on the PickMeUp demand-responsive service in Oxford. Go-Ahead chief executive David Brown said he was delighted to have expanded the partnership.
“As London’s largest bus operator, we understand how an ‘on demand’ service can provide further journey opportunities to complement the capital’s extensive network of bus routes,” he said.
“The Sutton service will help customers with the first and last mile of their trip and fits well with Go-Ahead’s vision of a world where every journey is taken care of.”
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.