LTA to test on-demand bus services for 6 months

Passengers can request pickups, drop-offs within designated area

LTA said that single-deck public service buses, which can typically carry up to 90 passengers and are currently operating on regular services, will be used during the trial.
LTA said that single-deck public service buses, which can typically carry up to 90 passengers and are currently operating on regular services, will be used during the trial.ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS CHONG

A six-month trial of on-demand public bus services will begin in December, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced yesterday.

During the trial, commuters will be able to request pickups and drop-offs at any bus stop within a designated area through a mobile app.

LTA said the trial "will start with selected services with low travel demand during off-peak hours".

It added that details such as locations and operating hours will be announced later, but LTA had said last year that routes in Joo Koon, Punggol and Marina South were being considered. Regular buses will still be running on the routes selected, but at lower frequencies.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, LTA said that single-deck public service buses, which can typically carry up to 90 passengers and are currently operating on regular services, will be used during the trial.

"Upon booking an on-demand bus trip, the commuter will be provided with the bus registration number and a unique service number for easy identification of the assigned on-demand bus," said LTA.

A $2.26 million contract for the LTA trial was awarded to two firms - United States-based Via Transportation and local start-up Ministry of Movement.

  • Services elsewhere

  • RIDECO

    Canadian start-up RideCo began offering on-demand bus services in Ontario in 2015. It has since expanded beyond Canada, offering similar services in cities such as Los Angeles in the United States.

    RideCo also powers GrabShuttle Plus, an on-demand shuttle bus service offered by Singapore-based ride-hailing firm Grab.

    CHARIOT

    The start-up - which began operating in San Francisco in the United States four years ago - was acquired in 2016 by carmaker Ford for a reported US$65 million (S$89 million).

    It now operates in five cities in the US, and in February launched four services operating around London in the United Kingdom.

    RIDE PLUS

    The Australian service has been operating in 11 areas around Sydney as part of a trial since the end of last year. Though the New South Wales government announced earlier this month that the services would be expanded, critics have countered that fares paid by passengers make up only 3 per cent of the services' cost, with taxpayers subsidising up to A$180 (S$180) of each fare.

In February, both firms won an initial tender of more than $460,000 to develop a dynamic routing and matching algorithm for the service.

The two firms will now develop hardware and software for the service. These include mobile apps for commuters and bus captains, tools for monitoring services, as well as operational and maintenance support for the system. They will also train bus drivers and support staff to operate the system.

According to LTA, the earlier algorithm developed by both firms demonstrated that the system can "optimise limited resources while offering more seamless and convenient bus journeys for commuters in areas or during timings with low or unpredictable ridership".

Via Transportation, which began operating in New York in 2014, has partnered transport firms in countries such as Australia and Japan to offer its services. Last year, the firm was reported to have raised US$250 million (S$342 million) from investors, including German carmaker Daimler.

Ministry of Movement - which started operating here in 2016 under the brand name Swat - announced last year that it had raised US$2.2 million in funding from undisclosed investors.

GrabShuttle Plus, a similar on-demand service operated by ride-hailing giant Grab - which participated in the LTA tender - began operating in Punggol in November last year.

Expanding later to other areas such as Sengkang and the Cheng San-Seletar estate, GrabShuttle Plus allows commuters to book a ride on a minibus between any two bus stops in an area - at a fraction of the cost of Grab's private-hire car services.

 

Globally, on-demand bus services have been implemented in countries such as the United States, with varying results.

Kutsuplus - which began operating in Helsinki in 2013 - is believed to be first to offer on-demand buses. But it shut down two years later despite having more than 20,000 registered users because the authorities deemed the €20 (S$32) public subsidy for each passenger on every ride prohibitive. Passengers had to pay only €5 a ride.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2018, with the headline 'LTA to test on-demand bus services for 6 months'. Subscribe