How Public Transport Agencies Are Innovating to Compete

William PeatmanBlog

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It’s no secret that the arrival of ridehailing businesses like Uber and Lyft caught cities and public transport agencies by surprise. Private businesses rolled into cities without asking permission, preferring to ask for forgiveness. It is also now clear that forgiveness is needed—these businesses are not helping cities with congestion but adding to it. Multiple studies have shown that ridehailing is adding billions of miles of driving on city streets, most of them coming at the expense of public transportation.

Some agencies around the world are taking action with creative solutions of their own, looking beyond merely regulating ridehailing to addressing the questions of how they can use novel mobility solutions to efficiently move more people with fewer vehicles. As a result, they are solving old problems that keep people off public transportation with more convenient, flexible solutions.

Right Sizing Buses

A frequent criticism of public buses is that they are too big, too loud, and often empty at off-peak hours. Buses add are costly for operators and empty ones don’t generate revenue and irk environmentally conscious tax payers. Also, networks of large public buses are infrastructure-heavy investments making it expensive to add services or to connect new areas to public transport.

In Strasbourg, France, Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeoise (CTS) has launched a new service that uses modular electric buses that can add or remove cars as demand warrants. The lead bus can couple with as many as three others to carry five to 80 passengers. The vehicles are manufactured by France’s Lohr Industries and are driven by a professional driver. The configuration enables CTS to reduce capacity at off-peak times when there are far fewer riders, cutting cost, noise, and carbon emissions for the agency. The new service is being tested as a replacement for the city’s bus line 10, and as a way to add service to new areas with lower infrastructure costs.

Solving the Last Mile

The last mile is a well-known obstacle to the utilization of public transportation. Without a convenient way to get to and from transit hubs, people opt to drive private autos simply because there isn’t a realistic alternative. Whether they opt for a ridehailing service or drive themselves, another vehicle is added to traffic.

In Geneva, Switzerland, Transports Publics Genevois (TPG) added an autonomous shuttle that connects three tram lines with the Meyrin train station for a last-mile solution. From the train station, commuters and residents can travel anywhere in the country. The shuttles are manufactured by France’s Navya, and have a TPG operator on board to supervise the operation of the vehicles. The TPG project is part of a broader effort on the part of the European Union to improve mobility in the region.

Making the Right Connection

Another headache that deters people from using public transport is the reliability of the networks and the odds of missing connections that can cause significant delays. Fear of being late for a meeting or an event often leads people to drive to supposedly have more control over arrival times.

Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF), the public transport operator in Fribourg, Switzerland, offers an autonomous shuttle service also using Navya vehicles to connect the city’s public transit system with the Marly Innovation Center, a near 100-acre mixed use development that hosts hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents. The service launched in 2017, and the next phase will integrate the shuttles’ schedules with the public transport schedule so that if a bus is late, the shuttle can wait for it before departing to avoid delaying passengers further.

Filling Gaps

These public transport agencies and others like them are turning to innovative new mobility vehicles and services to fill gaps in existing networks, to make it easier for people to use their services, and to provide a more convenient alternative that will keep people out of their cars. Whether making existing services more efficient, or reaching new service areas, they are responding to the challenges brought by ridehailing and other new mobility services with innovations of their own.