The NSW government is moving forward with its plans to trial “on-demand” public bus services next year, inviting proposals for “innovative models” that better match transport to demand.
The government said it is now accepting expressions of interest from “industry groups” that it hopes can be converted into a “series of pilots” for transport services that turn up as and when people need them.
The idea – in theory – is to allow commuters to use public transport in a similar way that they use other services.
“We have Netflix, Stan, and Foxtel to give us movies on demand – so why can’t we have our public transport respond to where people are and what they want?” NSW Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance said last month.
“Imagine a NSW where you don’t need to check the timetable because the right numbers of trains, buses or ferries arrive when and where they need to. This future is not far off if we are quick off the mark today."
Transport for NSW customer services deputy secretary Tony Braxton-Smith noted today that “new and emerging technologies are changing the way that businesses operate”.
“Customers now expecting to get what they want when they want it, and transport needs to keep up,” Braxton-Smith said.
“The beauty of on-demand services is that they could improve the convenience and reliability of public transport for all customers, not just those on main transport routes.”
The agency has been on a deeper push to adopt technology to a greater degree, and developed a Future Transport Technology Roadmap earlier this year.
“Cultivating more personalised and tailored services is a key target identified in the Roadmap and this project is an important step towards that goal,” Braxton-Smith said.
“Successful ideas will generate great opportunities for the market in future service contracts.”
Braxton-Smith wanted ideas that could be co-developed with his agency.
“The most innovative ideas often come through collaboration which is why we want leaders in the technology and transport industries to work with us to develop a clever, creative solution,” he said.
Expressions of interest in the On Demand Transport Pilot can be submitted through NSW eTendering. The deadline is 24 February 2017.
The government said it anticipated having technology trials in place by the end of 2017.
On-demand or demand responsive transport has been trialled or used in other cities worldwide.
Finland was one of the earliest adopters with Kutsuplus, a kind of ridesharing service pre-dating UberPool. Trials enabled the idea to reach minimum viable product (MVP) status, but the cost to run it at scale saw the project folded at the end of 2015.
Slovenia is currently undertaking a similar trial using electric cars that run on set routes but stop only as ordered. There are plans to expand it outside existing bus routes.
In the US, start-ups such as Bridj offer “pop-up” transportation services. It struck a deal with Ford to run on-demand bus services for Kansas City residents that are presently under-served by existing public transportation.