Nobody Left Behind

Let’s build a socially inclusive Assisted Transport Solution model

By Mark Rackley-Lee at Trapeze


Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) is a vital component of modern society – which is why it is so terrifying that its established delivery model is at breaking point, with reduced transport budgets forcing many UK authorities to limit access to services.

Aside from the very real threat of social exclusion, shrinking of DRT services creates a self-defeating cycle: this reduction in passenger volume is actually making DRT more expensive to run.

Knowing this, our choice is simple: we can allow this cycle to continue, watching on sadly as DRT dwindles and those who rely on such services are left behind – or we can fix it.

TfL’s new Assisted Transport Services technology presents a precious opportunity to show the world that it is still possible to build a better, integrated DRT transport network: one that improves overall mobility by delivering truly socially inclusive transport that meets the needs of the entire community.

We want to build this solution with you. Together we can pave the way for investment in assisted transport across the country – and ensure nobody is left behind.

The Competition Issue

We all know many UK authorities are struggling to cope with reduced budget. At the same time, DRT is catering for an ageing population, and increasing complexity in relation to disabilities and transport requirements. Meanwhile, new ‘e-hail’ apps, ride-sharing and short-term hire schemes offer convenient and flexible alternatives for people who are more mobile but have DRT requirements, especially those living in towns and cities.

But of course, wholesale outsourcing of DRT to commercial organisations means losing control of the network, presenting a long-term mobility risk for those who require transport but cannot afford to pay.

At the same time, as the number of people using traditional local authority-led DRT services shrinks, the cost per journey increases. DRT is becoming costlier, less relevant, and difficult to justify.

This dwindling of DRT is terrifying for those who care about social mobility. This 2016 study by KPMG and the Institute for Transport Studies found that local bus services are crucial for citizens’ wellbeing and the reduction of deprivation. Meanwhile, the UK’s health and social care sectors are already under immense pressure to help people to live independently at home for longer.

Fortunately, we also know that DRT can play a crucial part in enabling this kind of connectivity – see this inspiring story from Isle of Man, where the replacing of underutilised bus services with DRT services has simultaneously increased access to services while reducing cost.

In conclusion, DRT, as part of an Assisted Transport Services solution, remains hugely important – and it critical that it remains under the authority’s control. But can we make it economically viable?

A fresh approach: an expansion of Assisted Transport

Rather than continuing to shrink Assisted Transport to reduce cost, could we instead expand it, making it more relevant, valuable – and also more efficient?

What if we took the acknowledged strengths of transport providers like Uber and sought to incorporate them within our own offering? And what if this approach went beyond mere imitation, instead focusing on collaboration and integration with such organisations? The result could be a truly integrated and dynamic mobility service that meets the needs of the entire community – and all under authority control.

A 2018 research project by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Community Transport Association explored how next-generation DRT services can be used to deal with the challenges of both personal and public transport becoming less viable, thanks to cost and efficiency. It foregrounded the role of technology in ensuring passengers have access to the information they need in order to use assisted transport services effectively, and suggested that collaboration between technology providers, commissioners and transport operators will be crucial to develop assisted transport services fit for the future.

With this approach, choice and convenience would be in the hands of the transport users, who would be empowered to control their own mobility. In practice this would require front-end mobile applications which users can access on their phones, and an easy selection of options. Assisted transport providers could encourage options for particular circumstances, for example, traditional fleet-led DRT services with specially trained drivers might be reserved for vulnerable individuals.

By expanding the network to include access to a wider range of transport modes, traditional DRT providers could increase the number of users, improve journey efficiency, and justify current and future transport budgets.

The role of technology

How would such a model work in practice?

Much of the infrastructure for delivering this integrated approach already exists: vehicles and drivers are present, with more joining all the time. What is missing is an integrated technology platform to bring all the parts together.

On the front end, users require a single, easy-to-use application which provides access to all of the different transport options available – including the traditional DRT fleet and partner services or transport providers. This would offer innovation to the ATS community in terms of how they interact and communicate with TfL.

On the back end, the management platform must be able to handle all aspects of the various transport modes on offer – including drivers, vehicles and route information. Crucially, this also requires integration with the back-end technology of partner services in order to ensure flexibility and choice – underpinned by the expected safety and reliability – for the ATS community.

Additionally, there is a requirement for an integrated approach to payments. The financing and ticketing of an integrated mobility service can be highly complex, given that some individuals will receive transport completely funded, while others will receive part funding or pay themselves. Plus, of course, payments may be required between the various stakeholders. This delivers an integrated payment experience for the ATS community.

Above all, these elements must work together as a single integrated solution. It is vital then that the overall platform is able to seamlessly receive data from different sources, consolidate it into a unified format, and then make sense of it in real-time – ensuring that transport options are dynamically chosen and assigned.

Evolve and comply

DRT operators face a stark choice. Existing models are failing as users turn to alternative options, resulting in untenably high costs per journey. Some of society’s most vulnerable individuals risk being left behind if this continues.

A more all-encompassing and flexible approach to on-demand transport can be delivered, by embracing a wider range of transport modes and delivering them as part of a single service. However, this approach requires urgent collaboration with alternative transport providers, and investment in technology to create a seamless service.

The adoption of this vision reflects the stated strategy of the Mayor of London to deliver a more reliable and convenient service for older and disabled Londoners who require door-to-
door transport services. The Mayoral Roadmap identifies five design principles: safe and reliable journeys; convenience; flexibility and choice; integration; and innovation.

Actions in the Roadmap include establishing a simpler way to access ATS; better information regarding available services; and piloting new ways of extending flexibility and choice in how and when to use ATS. When completed, there will be a single integrated service that gives customers seamless access to a range of transport options, including London’s public transport and core ATS.

If assisted transport services are to continue to act as a driver of social inclusivity, the time for action is now. Only in this way can we continue to ensure that nobody is left behind.

Dial-it-Up: ATS Vision Resources

Introducing New PASS [HOMEPAGE & VIDEO]


Dial-a-Ride Procurement [ARTICLE]

Lessons from Future Bus – and Beyond

Global Passenger Experience [VIDEOS]

Trapeze’s latest tools for passengers

Global Driver Experience [VIDEOS]

Trapeze’s latest tools for drivers

A Compromise too Far? [ARTICLE]

Why Local Authorities should beware

Dial It Up! Next Step: Discuss The Vision

We believe Dial-a-Ride’s new technology is an opportunity to create a showcase Assisted Transport Solution model that paves the way for transport reform in the UK and beyond. We would love the opportunity to meet to discuss further.

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