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This section provides a brief explanation of the essence of DRT services. A more detailed exploration of the nature of DRT and some of the key issues for its development are given in the information pack and video.

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What is Demand Responsive Transport (DRT)?

Introduction - beyond the traditional bus

Conventional bus services have fixed routes and fixed times. They have bus stops and the bus turns up according to the published timetable (at least in theory!). In a sparsely populated area, for example in the countryside, this means the bus has to go round every village that it is meant to serve even when no-one wants to travel. This can lead to torturous routes, low frequencies and poorly used services. Does it have to be this way?

The flexible friend

In response to such problems in both rural and urban areas, a more flexible form of bus travel has been devised which matches the service more closely to the customers' needs. It has been given the name demand responsive transport - DRT for short.

The taxi is perhaps the simplest form of demand responsive transport. You ring it up from wherever you are, it picks you up and takes you to wherever you want to go. It is convenient but not cheap. The challenge was to create comparable levels of quality, convenience and affordability in the form of a new type of bus service. New developments in technology - satellite tracking, on-screen information in call centres and buses, and routeing software, have made it possible to create services which respond more directly to the requirements of the individual passenger.

In essence, within a given zone, a customer telephones a call centre from their home and requests a single or return trip to go to a nearby town, interchange or local facility. The call centre communicates with the driver of the bus, and the passenger is fitted on to a service round. These may be regular (for example hourly) or entirely according to demand. A pick up point and time are agreed and the bus collects the passenger within a ‘time window’ of, say 10 minutes, rather like a taxi.

The bus is shared with other passengers with similar requests within a given zone. So the journey may take longer than a taxi, but the advantages are that the service can be of high quality, almost door to door and be available on a regular basis. Even taxis can be hard to find outside central urban areas.

Your own personal bus stop

In addition to this, the computer booking process allows for many more stops to be created, often without any visible sign by the roadside. These do not hold up the bus because it does not have to visit them unless requested. The personal stops can be at or near peoples homes, farms, housing estates or flats and the destinations can be virtually anywhere within a given zone depending on how the scheme is structured. Some buses travel anywhere to anywhere within a zone, while others have some sort of core route from which they deviate.

As well as getting close to door to door travel, booking in itself creates better security for the passengers. And, in addition drivers tend to like the services and enjoy the extra responsibility of seeing that their passengers, many of whom they come to know, are safely home, shopping and children unloaded.

Schemes also tend to use smaller buses (8 - 25 seats) which are better suited to lower levels of use and can get down narrow, twisting roads and turn round, more easily.

Effective and efficient

As well as the potential for improved service to the passenger, DRT makes it possible to serve a wider area with fewer buses. The way this works can be illustrated as follows. If someone wants to travel from their home in one part of zone but the bus has been booked to go to another, it may not have time to stretch its route and fit them in on that journey. In this case, the call centre offers the passenger the next available bus journey. On the other hand, if the bus is travelling nearby at the right time, the new passenger is simply added to the existing bus round. There is thus an element of negotiation and rescheduling in creating every route the bus will take. This is the key to increased efficiency.

A variety of applications

Dispersed demand is not just a rural phenomenon. Other examples are: low density housing in or around urban centres, night travel in urban or rural areas or getting people to and from stations or long distance bus and coach services.

In transport terms, DRT fills a gap between the big bus and the taxi. It may still require financial support, but in the right area it can offer better service at the same cost. To reiterate the point, what is attractive about DRT is that where passenger demand is dispersed, not every place in the defined area has to be visited on every bus journey.

All these issues are addressed in more depth in the extended information and best practice pack which is accompanied by our 40 minute film, showing six schemes in England, Finland, Italy, and Scotland.

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