On-demand transport: changing how we move

Dr David ReyWe live in a world of on-demand services. Hungry? Order delivery through Foodora or Menulog. Need to go somewhere? Call an Uber. In many ways, personalised services like these have become part of the way we live.

But what if we could apply on-demand principles to big – and complex – public services? Imagine using an app to summon a bus, for example, rather than waiting at the bus stop at a scheduled time. According to Dr David Rey, a researcher at the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation (rCITI) at UNSW, it’s already happening. An expert in operations research, a field of enquiry that spans applied mathematics, computer science and economics, Rey has been applying his expertise to a series of on-demand public transport projects. “

On-demand transport is a user-driven approach to public transport that does away with traditional transport routes and schedules,” he says. “Instead, passengers request transport to a specific destination and are collected and dropped off at connected, easy-toaccess locations at a time that suits them.”

The idea is to make better use of what we have.

Dr David Rey

Recently, Rey has developed routing and scheduling algorithms for leading transport organisations to demonstrate how on-demand transport could work in a range of different scenarios. He says that from a public transport perspective, on-demand transport initiatives are about providing better customer service by optimising the allocation of available resources.

“If you sit on an empty, hour-long frequent bus, you’re going to have a long travel time. An on-demand service could cut down the journey and get you there much faster without necessarily impacting service costs.”

Rey has also worked in the challenging area of customer acceptance, investigating customer attitudes towards new on-demand transport models. Unlike traditional modes of public transport, where passengers play a passive role (waiting at an assigned location at an assigned time to connect with the transport system), on-demand models active engagement with the transport experience, with tools like smartphone apps and call-in services being used to book a ride.

“I’ve helped organise surveys and analysis on the concept of on-demand services. In the context of on-demand transport as a new offer that nobody has experienced before, what is the propensity of people to change and leave their car at home, for instance, and take an on-demand vehicle?” he says.

While some projects have focused on small populations, others deliver a rationale for on-demand transport as part of a multimodal transport network in major metropolitan centres. And it’s a rationale that bears weight: as well as reducing transport costs and enhancing the passenger experience, on-demand transport has an important role to play in improving traffic flows and enhancing access to, and use of, critical transport infrastructure like roads.

“The ultimate goal of on-demand transport, whether it’s public or private, is to reduce the numbers of cars on the road and to make better use of existing infrastructure – it’s not about building new roads or adding new vehicles,” Rey says. “The idea is to make better use of what we have.”