The Ultimate Guide To The Demand For Public Transport Routes

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This article goes through the topic of demand analysis for public transport routes.

Paris train route
Which public transport routes have higher demand? How can such demand be analysed?
Image Source: giovanni sciacca

Demand for public transport in general

Before we go through the demand for certain routes, let’s talk about the general demand for public transport. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) referred to this as transport demand, which VTPI defined as “the amount and type of travel people would choose under specific conditions, taking [into] account factors such as the quality of transport options available and their prices.”

According to this Canadian independent transport research organisation, there are many factors and changes to these factors that affect transport demand. Echoing this was a 2012 paper by Cihat Polat titled “The Demand Determinants for Urban Public Transport Services: A Review of the Literature, which split the list of factors into 2 types: structural and external.

Structural factors

  • transport fare
  • accessibility of transport services
  • waiting time
  • journey time
  • interchanges (for multimodal transport routes)
  • service quality
  • reliability
  • comfort
  • travel distance
  • availability and costs of alternative modes
  • peak times
  • purpose of travel
  • level of transport supply

External factors

  • level of public transport dependency
  • economic factors
  • population density
  • demographic and social factors
  • land use and city planning
  • government policies surrounding public transport

Looking at what VTPI and Cihat Polat said, it seems that these 2 types of factors go hand-in-hand in influencing transport demand. Public transport demand is higher among the lower-income people regardless of quality as affordability takes centre stage.

Meanwhile, the demand for car travel increase with income. Rich people can afford to buy a car and would prioritise comfort and convenience over affordability. So car demand is high among the rich especially if the quality of car travel is higher than that of public transport – unless they choose to live in areas that are more accessible to multimodal transport routes.

And because they can afford to buy a car, there are other interesting reasons for them to prefer driving cars:

  • Car travel superiority: “Driving a car is the best mode of transport ever.”
  • Car travel prestige: “Using public transport is just embarrassing and I’m too rich for that.”
  • Alternatives are not good enough or even available: “I really have no other options. The nearest bus stop is out of town.”
  • Getting their money’s worth from buying the car: “I’m already paying so much for this car, so I might as well use it to the max.”
Some people love to drive simply because it feels great to drive. It’s comfortable, convenient and worth paying for. For some, it serves as a status symbol. For others, it’s their only way to travel.
Image Source: Jonas Junk

However, the transport demand as described above might be disrupted by the following trends:

  • Calls for climate action and sustainable development.
  • Health concerns.
  • Maximum car ownership among rich people.
  • Increasing population, particularly the senior group.
  • Increasing fuel prices.
  • Decreasing affordability of cars.
  • Increasing demand for urban housing.
  • Increasing traffic congestion.
  • Increasing costs of expanding highways.
  • Increasing demand for public transport quality.

These trends could reduce car travel demand, and in turn, increase public transport demand. Now, let’s zoom into the demand for routes within the public transport network.

Demand for routes and stops

The demand for certain routes refers to which routes have high importance to many passengers. The Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) summed up the importance of analysing the demand for routes in its Online Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Planning Guide as follows:

“Knowing where and when customers require transport services will help shape a system that is based, above all, on the needs of customers. BRT planners generally suggest putting a BRT system in a location that will benefit the most customers in the best way possible as quickly as possible, most directly through time savings.”

Chapter 4 of ITDP’s BRT Planning Guide on the importance of bus route demand analysis.

Demand analysis

ITDP’s approach to BRT planning is nothing without demand analysis, with the objective of creating demand forecasts. It’s easy to agree with ITDP’s BRT planning guide that a good starting point for demand analysis is gathering data about where and how people travel using the existing public transport system. To estimate the demand, the following sets of data are needed:

  1. The current public transport routes from geospatial data sources such as Geographic Information System (GIS), Google Earth, Google Maps, Global Positioning System (GPS) and General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS).
  2. The number of passengers using each route.
  3. Entries and exits for each public transport vehicle.
  4. The frequency and speed of public transport vehicles.
  5. The traffic conditions of the road network included in the bus routes.

The data about entries and exits (in other words, boarding and alighting) tells how many passengers are on each route at a particular point in time, and how many of them are entering and exiting at each stop. It’s fair to assume that these figures indicate routes and even stops that are high in demand at certain times of the day.

Counting the number of passengers who enter and exit a public transport vehicle from a stop is one data source for route demand analysis.
Image Source: Tolu Olarewaju

However, the guide warns that transport planners need to practice caution with forecasts since forecasts are subject to the risks of overestimation or underestimation.

  • overestimation leads to using more infrastructure and fleet than needed and exaggerating revenues
  • underestimation leads to limiting the performance and success of the BRT system

A similar demand analysis was done by Noor Asmael and Mohanned Waheed in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2018. The research duo identified the routes with the highest demand by analysing the entries and exits taking place in 5 bus routes.

But what we’ve discussed so far are for fixed routes. Consideration is also needed for flexible route needs. For example, Granny needs to see her doctor regularly, so the flexible route bus driver needs to cater to her transport needs by keeping his ears open for her instructions to stop in front of the clinic and her home. This is where flexible transport rolls in.

Flexible transport

According to Demand-responsive transit systems in areas with low transport demand of ‘smart city'” by Andrey Gorev, Olga Popova and Aleksandr Solodkij (2020), there are 6 types of flexible transport services, half of which have no fixed routes while the other half rely on fixed routes. The visual differences of these types can be viewed on page 9 of the copyrighted presentation slides about the Design, Pricing and Scheduling of Flexible Transit Systems (FTS).

No fixed routes:

  1. Feeder Service or Demand-Responsive Connector
  • arranged in a particular service area
  • within a certain time interval
  • to transport passengers to the existing route network
  • caters to the demand of 2-8 passengers per hour
  • if the demand is low, passengers can make requests to be dropped anywhere they want

2. Zone Route

  • within a particular area
  • an order for transport services can be made from any point in the chosen area
  • time of departure or arrival is fixed
  • usually used to transport passengers to an attraction location like a train or bus station or an area of shops
  • also usually used to transport passengers who live in underpopulated areas
  • can be used to travel at night
  • caters to the demand of at least 3 passengers per hour

3. Point Deviation

  • not using any predefined route network
  • can be used in a certain area and between certain stops
  • normally used in urban areas at night or underpopulated areas
  • caters to the demand of 2-4 passengers per hour

With fixed routes:

4. Route Deviation

  • the most common demand-responsive transport option
  • deviations from fixed routes are either done as a separate service or in combination with a fixed-route service
  • but the deviations have limits
  • route deviations limited either by a fixed list of entry points or the maximum distance to deviate
  • the number of deviations limited by the bus schedule
  • common in underpopulated and rural areas
  • caters to the demand of 2.5-20 trips per hour!
  • higher demand calls for more limits to deviations

5. Request Stops

  • fixed-route network
  • fixed schedule
  • the number of on-demand stops is limited
  • allows for the expansion of the pedestrian accessibility zone for underpopulated areas and direct transport to destinations
  • caters to low-demand such that extra stops do not disrupt the schedule

6. Flexible-Route Segments

  • fixed-route network
  • fixed schedule
  • open to switching to work on-demand with limited parts of the route

Relying solely on fixed routes results in overcrowding in overpopulated areas and low occupancy levels in underpopulated areas. Flexible routes, which provide transport options for a wider passenger base, solve this issue by responding to demand. However, flexible routes may be more expensive to operate fully due to the carrier’s high costs and the lack of subsidies for the more robust technology required.

That’s why another 2020 study proposed combining fixed and flexible transport services. As stated in Integrating fixed and demand-responsive transportation for flexible transit network design” by Giovanni Calabrò, Andrea Araldo, Simon Oh, Ravi Seshadri, Giuseppe Inturri and Moshe Ben-Akiva (2020), the proposed transit system design (coined as “Flexible Transit”) reaps the benefits from fixed and flexible transport services by alternating between them based on the demand in each urban sub-region and time.

The researchers used Continuous Approximation to optimise the Flexible Transit in terms of user and operator costs, in hopes of recommending crucial policy insights in improving future public transport planning, speaking of which…

All about serving passengers through improved planning

The previous article about multimodal transport routes raised the topic of multimodal planning, whereby transport networks and cities are planned with consideration for the differing capabilities of different transport modes and land use factors that affect accessibility including availability, speed, density, costs, limitations and appropriate uses.

At the same time, a recommendation for transport and urban planners to put themselves in the shoes of the passengers was put forward as a way to know what works and what doesn’t. Adding to this, demand analysis, as discussed above, is a good way of gauging where and when passengers need public transport services, helping public transport operators serve the needs of most passengers in the most optimal way possible.

Put differently, demand analysis may help operators determine the optimal combination of fixed and flexible transport services. Getting this right is important because, if passengers’ needs are not fulfilled or even considered, then the huge investments in public transport resources will just be a huge waste.

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Takeaway

What is transport demand?

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) defines transport demand as “the amount and type of travel people would choose under specific conditions, taking [into] account factors such as the quality of transport options available and their prices.”

What are the structural factors of transport demand?

  • transport fare
  • accessibility of transport services
  • waiting time
  • journey time
  • interchanges (for multimodal transport routes)
  • service quality
  • reliability
  • comfort
  • travel distance
  • availability and costs of alternative modes
  • peak times
  • purpose of travel
  • level of transport supply

What are the external factors of transport demand?

  • level of public transport dependency
  • economic factors
  • population density
  • demographic and social factors
  • land use and city planning
  • government policies surrounding public transport

Why do rich people prefer driving cars?

  • Higher comfort and convenience
  • Car travel superiority
  • Car travel prestige
  • Inadequate alternatives
  • Getting their money’s worth from the car

What trends could reduce car demand and increase public transport demand?

  • Calls for climate action and sustainable development.
  • Health concerns.
  • Maximum car ownership among rich people.
  • Increasing population, particularly the senior group.
  • Increasing fuel prices.
  • Decreasing affordability of cars.
  • Increasing demand for urban housing.
  • Increasing traffic congestion.
  • Increasing costs of expanding highways.
  • Increasing demand for public transport quality.

What does the demand for routes refer to?

A high demand for routes refers to which routes are very important to many passengers.

Why is demand analysis so important?

It creates demand forecasts, which help shape a public transport network that serves the needs of as many passengers as possible in the best way possible as quickly as possible.

What data sets are needed for demand analysis and forecasting?

  1. The geospatial data about current public transport routes.
  2. The number of passengers using each route.
  3. The entries and exits for each public transport vehicle.
  4. The frequency and speed of public transport vehicles.
  5. The traffic conditions of the road network included in the bus routes.

What are the risks of transport demand forecasts?

  • Overestimation, which uses more infrastructure and fleet than needed and exaggerating revenues.
  • Underestimation, which limits the performance and success of the transport network.

What are the 6 types of flexible transport services?

  • Demand-responsive connector or feeder service
  • Zone route
  • Point deviation
  • Route deviation
  • Request stops
  • Flexible-route segments

Why can't fixed routes or flexible routes be used alone?

Fixed routes lead to overcrowding in overpopulated areas and low occupancy levels in underpopulated areas. Whereas, flexible routes may be more expensive to operate fully due to the carrier’s high costs and the lack of subsidies for the more robust technology required. Thus, alternating between fixed and flexible routes based on demand may help find that sweet spot.