I have just listened to the podcast 'Lunch with Leon', (Leon Daniels and Paul Saint House from Dawson Rentals). I really like these short interviews; in this case we hear insightful views of two of the UK's most experienced logistics specialists.
I agree with many of Leon and Pauls observations, especially views on the collateral damage caused to public transport by the war against Covid-19 (C-19).
I am not experienced in transport logistics and have never been an operator, but in specialist vehicle 'product' and 'market' development. However, their opinions resonate with my own understanding of what's happened, happening, and is likely to happen in the future.
The idea that this virus will compress the time afforded to some current but outmoded transport systems is well observed. Before C-19, the survival battle for buses was already well underway; we live in a time when compared to other road users; traditional bus use continued to fall without any help. Given the likely continued blurring of private-hire vehicles, demand-responsive transport and taxis, we expect a future that combines both the old and new transport options.
One such hybrid is Demand Responsive Transportation (DRT) which is currently growing in European cities as shared ride-pooling services. These new on-demand services can support hub-and-spoke services.
C-19 precipitated economic decline seems inevitable; DRT's adaptability might bring other market opportunities, beneficial to cities and metropolitan areas, some research suggests that this is so.
In Hamburg where MOIA’s ride-sharing service has been introduced with a specially designed futuristic looking electric vehicle to ensure MOIA’s brand experience during the whole customer journey, passenger numbers and operating vehicles are growing. In Hanover, MOIA’s first operating area, introduced case studies identify leisure trips, as a significant intention for the use of facilities in suburban areas, this behaviour is new, it recognises a younger demographic and increased frequency, different from buses.
To quote Leon "The young, and those of you who have teenage children will know this. They leave home with a debit card and a mobile phone – that's their transport, their food, and their drink, and that's what they carry with them. Those people will grow to become the mainstream adults in our society; those will be the mainstream of our economic activity."
In the UK, we rusticate DRT's true potential, together with the acceptance of its service requirement. Instead, we rely on carriage systems that are effectively unchanged for over 100 years, but our current circumstances deserve new thinking.
"MOIA is a global lighthouse project" it is a Hamburg based shared-ride service ultimately owned by Volkswagen Group, the Berlin-based manufacturer that makes the customised electric vehicles. The company has been successful, partly because of its user experience and partly because of its partnership with Hamburg PTA. It is difficult to say “NO” to a solution that tackles two major societal issues, the right to clean air and economic and social costs of congestion. To make DRT a more natural 'fit' alliances have been formed with the public transit provider and taxi services were appeased with a less aggressive rollout than planned.
One important point. Taxi operators in Hamburg (along with colleagues in other European cities Berlin, for example) see PTA's as being complicit in the introduction of disruption. PTA's have learnt from costly engagement exercises with disruptors that have cost a lot and changed little, why is this? If we think about disruptive change has happening because a social 'want' becomes satisfied by emerging technology which combine to create a 'novel' service or product that disrupts incumbent ‘players’ with sunk cost and legacy issues. Like smartphones and hail riding enabled Uber and the elevator enabled the skyscraper.
The UK Government is moving swiftly to legitimise e-scooters. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a £2bn fund for green transport to combat overcrowding on public transport amid the coronavirus pandemic. Logistics managers should be disappointed that (unlike the data transparency demanded in the bus bill) we have not requested open data from e-scooter service providers in support of integration.
Government actions have circumvented the normal disruptive process by rapidly moving the popular mico-transit system into the mainstream. However, by their efforts, they may marginalise the less ambulatory by reducing the financial potential of another services patronage. Today this may not appear to be a problem, after all the Government is advising us to stay off public transport services.
Over 98% of UK buses offer single step and bridged access for passengers, some of which are in wheelchairs. The majority of the single step need comes from people with mobility, breathing and dexterity issues, not forgetting mums with strollers.
If we are to have a genuinely integrated working transport system, we must consider it to be for 'everyone'. High floor minibus platforms may appear inclusive because they borrow their look and feel from platform buses, but they are not all-inclusive. Micro-scooters are fun, fast and cheap but they are not for everyone, cycling and walking is better - but not for everyone.
Buses are for everyone but are failing because they don't meet the needs of a new travelling public, they are accessible but not accessed.
We need a brave Government to evoke change, but it would be a mistake to disrupt the UK transport market by allowing transport brokers and aggregators to enter without a commitment to maintain hard fought social access gains. In exchange for market access, they must recognise societal responsibilities currently delivered by buses.
When studied it becomes clear that there is a gap in the vehicle platforms available to adapt to acceptable, accessible transport. OEM's such as VW naturally want to customise a standard van platform because when it comes to manufacturing - more is better!
Taking a nudge from Leon and Pauls comments about the integration of dial-a-ride services we should look at minibuses like the Mellor Tucana for inspiration.
I have to declare an interest here; I work with Mellor product and market development teams, I have not worked on the M2 classification Tucana, which is a mature product. Mellor build the Tucana minibus using big-bus technology with the user in mind; it has a single step and low flat floor, yet with no little imagination this vehicle could provide all of the experience characteristics associated with products like MOIA with the added benefit of full DDA access.
To have real impact we must deliver shared accessible transport in the 'normal driving license' or M1 3.5T space. Only by doing this will be able to blend private hire vehicles with truly shared transport, whether that replacement comes through license restrictions or market forces – it makes sense for this to happen.
Importantly, an M1 fully accessible taxi bus is inclusive, and because it is inclusive it should be sponsored by PTA’s that genuinely want to drive change towards a modern flexible share riding service. A few demand responsive buses working without public support is just a business not infrastructure.
State-sponsored Disruptive legislation could encourage the replacement of PHV with low floor M1 electric taxi-buses. Data should be shared and open, the employment status of drivers guaranteed and PHV non-compliant licenses constrained. Doing this will radically improve the quality of public transport for everyone. The capital cost of electric taxi-buses will be high; low-floor customisation will be comparatively expensive in the early adopter phases and so; initially, subsidies will be needed- possibly taken from the £2bn green fund mentioned above?
When operating costs for small electric buses are analysed, we find that operational running and environmental costs are low. Running an M1 taxi bus should be as viable from a passenger perspective as a PHV, without the added advantage the aggregation opportunities. There is nothing new about taxi-bus, legislation for it exists in the 'act' however, free unencumbered use of the service for first and last-mile needs revision.
Because of the UK break from European directives we can also consider a driving license derogation that (subject to approved mass and dimension acceptance) M1 certified accessible taxi-buses could run at 4.2T in line with changes introduced for N1 commercial vans. Additional driver training is accepted; again, this should be in line with the N1 proposed changes.