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09 Nov 2015
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Many of us are now familiar with the rapid growth of Uber: the taxi industry may never be the same again. Looking wider to other mobility suppliers, will it be the bus sector that will see massive change next?
The potential of “Pop-up transit” is now starting to feature in the thinking of authorities and operators responsible for managing some of the five billion or so bus journeys that we make each year in the UK. What may be exciting to these policy makers, regulators and procurers of mobility, is the emergence of Pop-up transit operators such as Bridj in the US, and Kutsuplus in Finland, and what this means for the UK. So what is Pop-up transit?
There is no common definition for Pop-up transit, so it is perhaps easier to describe what it looks like from the passenger perspective. Imagine using an App to request a bus ride when you want it and where you want it – you may pay more than you would on a traditional bus, but less than in a taxi.
A key feature that differentiates Pop-up transit from existing demand responsive transit (aka dial-a-ride) is the ability for bus routings to be dynamically managed using a range of data sources. The use of data analytics to efficiently service real-time demand is crucial to offering passengers a competitive tariff whilst also providing as close to a “door to door” service as possible.
Much of what is new about the Pop-up transit model is enabled by innovation using the same data and communication technologies that are supporting adoption of Intelligent Mobility in other parts of the transport industry. This means that it may be that the policy and politics holds back progress rather than the technology itself.
The potential market for Pop-up transit is significant given the key reasons travellers use the car are flexibility and convenience, and it is against these features that Pop-up transit is positioned. Recent research commissioned by the Transport Systems Catapult shows that being able to travel when you want is the most important attribute to travellers (49%) and public transport is more likely to be chosen when it is easily accessed (47%). It is not surprising then, that the flexibility and convenience of Pop-up transit could be an attractive proposition for many of us, especially in our urban areas.
It is too early to tell if Pop-up transit will become wide-spread. Moreover the operators, new business models and most importantly the policy and regulation influences, need to be considered carefully. Atkins is currently exploring these issues with our clients, particularly around the devolution agenda and changes in funding models.
Meanwhile on the operator side, new entrants to the market will need to focus on managing the PR and politics risks that could otherwise constrain growth, and there may be lessons learned from Uber in this respect.
With uncertainty ahead, it is important for authorities to investigate rather than ignore the potential for Pop-up transit so that future investment, public or private, provides both economic as well as social benefits on the ground. Looking to the future, is it likely that pop-up transit will become the cool cousin of the bus, or will it be part of business as usual for our existing operators? How far can it support the policy objectives of our city authorities, and will it be effective in eroding the dominance of the car on our daily journeys? Perhaps most importantly, the question is whether Pop-up transit will be embraced by our policy makers and supported by the industry regulators over the next few years, or will it be left to its own devices?
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