Demand Response Services: ITS Evaluation Guide

Published August 18, 2022 in ITS Evaluation Guide

Demand responsive systems have become increasingly popular and well known to the public. They take four primary forms:

Taxi services, including ride-sharing services, is where a vehicle arrives in response to a pickup request, usually from a mobile device. Uber, Lyft, and similar services have changed how taxis are requested and paid for. Passengers can now request a vehicle on their mobile phone app while paying for their trip. Increasingly, cities are rolling out these same features to their citizens as they expand their on-demand taxi services. Places like Dubai have rolled out their own centrally run and managed taxi service with over 10,000 taxis.

Demand response for persons with special needs. Also called paratransit, these passengers may be the elderly or disabled who need accessible transport to shops, doctors, or hospitals. Services are usually requested either by contacting a call centre, or increasingly, by mobile application. These services are common in Europe and North America and are seeing a greater need in developing countries. As populations age, there is significantly more pressure on transport authorities to provide such services to their passengers. These systems consider passenger requirements and create itineraries appropriately, combining trips where possible to deliver more economical services. Where these services are mandated by law, some operators provide on-demand services for special needs passengers rather than fitting out all their vehicles for them. This reduces their capital outlay while providing specialist services with trained staff to assist passengers.

Demand response on commuter routes. These are typically used on low-demand routes where it is uneconomical to run regular timetables. Passengers can book a trip in advance on a smartphone application or request a trip from their location. The system maps demand into services as economically as possible while meeting passenger travel requirements. Services may also be a variation of existing services, where a vehicle follows a regular schedule but deviates off-route for a pickup or drop off as required.

Demand response for school services. Demand response solutions can also provide facilities for managing school bus services. They build a combination of routes using regular bus services (on school service) and special transport for specific pupils, due to, for example, distance or special needs.


The benefits of demand response services include:

Better access to services. Particularly for disabled passengers, on-demand systems give access to transport when and where passengers need it.

24/7 availability. Public transport does not always run 24/7. Passenger numbers at night decline, and it is not viable to run empty services at late times. Taxis and on-demand services are great for filling that gap.

Door to door convenience. The ability to go from door to door makes on-demand services convenient for passengers.

Last mile services. Demand response services can be invaluable in proving last mile services between stations and home or work.

Improved rural services. Demand response services provide public transport to rural communities which may not otherwise be serviced.

Lower cost for operators on low demand routes. On some routes, patronage is simply too low to justify a 24/7 or frequently scheduled service. On-demand services can deliver essential public transport services while giving passengers convenience without the cost of a full scheduled service.

Evaluation Guide

When assessing demand response services, consider the following:

1. What are you trying to achieve?
Demand response can cover an extensive range of services. You need to be very specific about what you are trying to achieve, as each service has a range of solutions.

2. Can trips be booked in advance?
Advanced trip booking gives passengers peace of mind and allows operators to use vehicles efficiently by scheduling trips better, using a built-in scheduling system. Based on the demand, these solutions can plan a vehicle route and advise the driver of where to go next. Depending on the type of solution, these route changes can allow for last-minute bookings or limit passengers to booking three to four hours ahead.

3. How do customers pay for the trip?
Payment via credit card, NFC, or an app is almost non-negotiable. If your provider cannot offer this type of service, you will need to look elsewhere. For many pre-booked systems, an account must contain customer details, such as home address and booking status, to simplify bookings.

4. Are there duress or emergency procedures in place?
For passenger and driver safety, any system you select must have built-in emergency or panic buttons to allow passengers and drivers to report emergencies, with live reporting of these events in a staffed control room.

5. During excess demand, can trips be outsourced to third-party providers?
When there is more demand than you can service, it is important to outsource excess trips to third-party providers. These providers can then provide the service at a pre-negotiated rate, ensuring that passengers still receive an excellent service at the same rate.

6. Does it provide driver guidance?
Driver guidance and navigation, showing traffic and the fastest route, are essential for an efficient, customer-centric service. Make sure that your solution has turn-by-turn navigation that drivers can follow easily.

7. Does it provide ride-sharing services?
Sharing a ride with other passengers can significantly reduce operator and passenger costs. The system should match passengers with the vehicle type based on the origin and destination. This is particularly important for paratransit applications and those involving the elderly.

8. Does it support multiple requirements, e.g. carers, wheelchairs, and mobility scooters?
For paratransit applications, additional factors like the need to transport carers, mobility scooters, or wheelchairs need to be accounted for when booking trips to ensure appropriate vehicles and space are booked.

9. Does the system deal with lost and found items?
Dealing with lost and found items can be extremely time-consuming for staff. Ensure that your system can handle inbound calls for lost items. The system should capture passenger contact information and associate a passenger with a vehicle trip so that drivers can be contacted.

For found items, an easy capture system makes it simple for drivers to log an item that has been left in their vehicle, allowing passengers to be contacted before they are even aware that they have lost an item.

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Mode of Transport

Bus, Trams/Light Rail, Ferry, Public Transport Authorities


Intelligent Transport Systems

Meet the author

David Panter

Industry Solutions Manager, ITS

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