On-demand transit could cut city traffic by 30%, study finds

On-demand transit services offer convenience for passengers while reducing traffic congestion, according to new research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The study examined on-demand, dynamically routed, multi-passenger shuttle services in Arlington, Texas; Seattle, Washington; West Sacramento, California; and Berlin in Germany. New-York-based Via Transportation operates all four services under contracts with public authorities and local transport agencies.

Travellers use their mobile phone to request a ride. They then walk to a nearby corner, known as a virtual bus stop, where they are shuttled with other travellers to a corner close to their destination. (Riders without smartphones can call a hotline; the unbanked have non-credit-card payment options; and disabled passengers receive door-to-door services.)

BCG describes these services as a “middle way” between mass transit – which is designed to move as many people as possible at the lowest cost for passengers — and the flexibility and freedom of cars.

Neither of these options works effectively in most cities, the management consulting firm argues. As cities have grown denser and more sprawling, mass transit has become a growing public expense and an inflexible option for passengers, who resort to using private cars. This rise in solo trips increases pollution and congestion. Meanwhile, many residents of low-income neighbourhoods remain unable to reach good jobs, perpetuating income inequality.

More recent innovations, such as ride hailing, can often contribute to rather than alleviate these challenges.

In contrast, on-demand transit complements mass transit and allows cities to develop new travel options that reduce congestion and pollution and increase ridership. According to the study, on-demand transit could help cities reduce traffic by 15% to 30% if deployed at scale and with regulatory changes to discourage personal use of cars.

Our study showed that on-demand transit services work,” BCG says. “In the right regulatory context, with lower per-passenger subsidies than those provided to comparable public services, these initiatives can benefit passengers and cities alike.

Their convenience and flexibility improve the user experience over fixed-route mass transit while bringing good jobs within reach of neighbourhoods poorly served by the status quo. They also generate less congestion and pollution than solo passenger travel.

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