The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced that it intends to develop on-demand, dynamically-routed public bus services during off-peak periods in areas with low ridership. With this scheme, commuters can use a mobile app to request pickups and drop-offs at any bus stop within a defined area.
The LTA called a tender on 15 August 2017 to seek proposals from the industry. It also hopes to extend the concept to night bus services, in place of existing night bus services with fixed timetables and routes. Trials are expected to begin in the second half of 2018.
Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) is a user-oriented form of public transport characterised by flexible routings based on real-time commuter demand, using a fleet of vehicles operating in shared-ride mode between pick-up and drop-off locations according to passengers needs.
Through a mobile application, commuters will be able to request pick-ups and drop-offs at any bus stop within a defined operating area. The objective is to deliver better and more customised bus services, with the possibility of a shorter wait time. Instead of being able to alight only at a bus stop along a pre-determined, fixed route, passengers can ask to alight at any bus stop in the operating area, making the commute more seamless and convenient than the fixed bus routes of today.
In addition to enhancing the commute, the trial will help LTA assess if such a form of public bus services could optimise resources (buses and bus captains) and operating cost in areas and periods with low ridership.
The first phase of the tender, to be awarded in 4Q 2017, will require the successful firms to conduct modelling and simulation to test service quality and resource requirements, allowing the LTA to determine the parameters for the actual trial. In the second phase, to be awarded in 2Q 2018, public bus operators will test and calibrate software and hardware solutions provided by the successful firms before beginning trials of actual on-demand, dynamically routed bus services in the second half of the year (2018).
The trial is expected to be conducted on seven bus services plying three areas – Joo Koon (for Services 253, 255 and 257), Punggol North/West (for Services 84 and 382) and Shenton Way/Marina South (for Services 400 and 402). These areas currently experience low demand for bus services during off-peak hours and might better serve commuters if converted into on-demand services.
In the lead-up to the actual trial, LTA promised to work with the bus operators and communities to educate and assist residents and commuters in the trial areas on how to use such bus services. During the trial, the usual scheduled bus services will continue to be operated at lower frequencies, for the benefit of commuters who are unfamiliar with the new bus services.
“Data analytics and mobile application technology have revolutionised the way that we travel, as we have seen in the success of ride-hailing. This tender will allow us to explore if such technology could also be applied to public bus services to deliver better services to commuters, and also to optimise precious resources,” said LTA public transport group director Yeo Teck Guan.
Demand-responsive transport has become readily available in Singapore with the emergence of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Grab, which have large pools of resources to tap on. At the touch of a button, the app quickly assigns a taxi or private-hire vehicle to a customer’s location.
A local startup, SWAT, provides on-demand and pre-booked bus services via its fleet of minibuses. The service started in 2016, and in June 2017, the company raised S$3 million to expand its minibus ride-sharing services locally.
Away from the on-demand market, providers like Beeline and GrabShuttle operate single-trip bus services based on community demand which will be activated only after a sufficient number of people back the service. Most trips are operated with minibuses, with coaches operating on the more popular routes.
Case Studies in other countries
Demand responsive transport has been implemented in many countries on a large scale, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Italy and Japan. Other countries have similar services on a smaller scale. Such services often operate at a loss and several have been withdrawn after high expenditure costs.