Singapore

Trial of on-demand public bus services to start in December

Two firms to conduct six-month trial for on-demand public bus services in areas with low travel demand during off-peak hours

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 pick-ups 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.

It 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 single-deck public service buses - which can typically carry up to 90 passengers - 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 the 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.

TENDER

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

They 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 had demonstrated 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, which began operating in New York in 2014, has partnered with transport firms in countries such as Australia and Japan to offer its services.

Last year, the firm reportedly raised US$250 million ($341.6 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 ($3 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.

OUTSIDE S'PORE

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

Kutsuplus - which began operating in Helsinki, Finland, in 2013 - is believed to be the first to offer on-demand buses.

But it was 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 for a ride.

On-demand bus 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 US. RideCo also powers GrabShuttle Plus, an on-demand shuttle bus service offered by Grab.

CHARIOT

The start-up - which began operating in San Francisco in the US four years ago - was acquired in 2016 by carmaker Ford for a reported US$65 million (S$89 million). It now operates in five US cities, and in February launched four services in the UK, operating around London.

RIDE PLUS

The Australian service has been operating in 11 areas around Sydney as part of a A$20m (S$20m) 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 cost, with taxpayers subsidising the rest.

Transport