Why It Matters

Get all aboard on-demand bus

On Tuesday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) called a tender for proposals for "on-demand, dynamically routed" bus services that would allow consumers to request public buses to pick them up using a mobile app.

These buses would no longer have to stick to pre-determined routes, and would instead respond to real-time demand.

Trials of such services will be conducted at selected locations around the island - where demand during off-peak hours is low - from the second half of next year.

While similar on-demand services have been available for some years, this may be the first time such an initiative is being introduced for existing public bus services. The bold initiative is in line with Singapore's Smart Nation ambitions and with the vision of a world-class transport system for Singapore.

But there are issues to resolve.

Though normal scheduled bus services will still be available at a "reduced frequency" during the trial, the LTA must ensure they still come frequently enough so as not to pose an inconvenience to less tech-savvy commuters, such as the elderly.

Commuters also need to know how the bus service reliability framework will be affected by such a move. The framework promises them more regular buses and reduced waiting times.

And they need to be aware of the costs.

Helsinki's on-demand Kutsuplus minibus service - which received significant financial support from the authorities - shut down after just two years as it was deemed too costly to taxpayers, who subsidised it to the tune of about $30 per ride.

Technological leaps have made life easier for most. But there is a real risk of leaving people behind, not just the elderly, but also those who find the cost of keeping pace with the latest technology too high.

The dynamically routed bus service is an innovative way of providing first- and last-mile public transport options in areas with low ridership, but commuters' needs must be part of the equation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'Get all aboard on-demand bus'. Print Edition | Subscribe