On-Demand Public Transportation Changing Human Mobility in Cities


Today, we find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented era, with Information Communication Technology (ICT)
and other cutting edge know-how liberating human creativity, while transforming cities,
societies and even our own sense of values at truly breakneck speed.
From the explosive progress made in artificial intelligence, the fusion of neuroscience and business endeavor,
revolutionary advances in robotics and other emerging trends, to the digital-driven “manufacturing revolution” and the Internet of things (IoT)…
In this report, we focus in on certain “seeds of innovation” now leaping across the conventional borders of nations,
cultures, disciplines and even technological domains, orchestrating images of the future lying just around the corner.

“On Demand” refers to the method of supplying services in direct response to customer requests. On-demand transport services, which apply this thinking to transportation means, are creating a major global buzz.

“Uber,” for example, is one on-demand transport service now grabbing attention in cities around the world. Under that system, private taxis cruising in the vicinity can be summoned from smartphone applications to carry passengers from designated pickup locations to desired destinations. Credit card information is input ahead of time, with payment by plastic eliminating any need to come up with cash on the spot.

Such services are being supplied on a scale ranging from individuals to several persons at the most. If transportation in this vein comes to be provided on an even greater scale, we can only imagine how that will change the urban landscapes of today.

innovation02_sub01-compressor“Kutsuplus” Minibus System in Helsinki

Trials in On-Demand Public Transportation Means

Buses, for instance, which excel as a mainstream mode of public mobility. If the truth were told, an initiative aimed at realizing on-demand bus operation has been underway in Japan for some time now.

On-demand buses are earning notice not only for their use in urban areas, but also as a potential means of resolving the current challenges in running public transportation systems in regional areas sorely impacted by depopulation. What’s more, they are also increasingly viewed as a feasible approach to lowering the burden on the natural environment.

At the University of Tokyo graduate school, development is being advanced on an on-demand transport system christened the “Convenient & Smart Vehicle.” On the strength of this technology, “door-to-door on-demand transportation” is being realized that is also known for being on time.

As another attraction, the precision of travel time derived from this on-demand transport system is enhanced in direct proportion to the frequency with which the system is operated. That is, as the technology is used, and data accumulated through that process, a steady stream of improvements can be instilled in the system.

innovation02_sub02-compressorShowing the driver the smartphone screen upon boarding the bus.

“Kutsuplus” Minibus System in Helsinki

In Finland, there is a mode of transportation under operation through the combination of an on-demand bus and a means of transportation along the lines of the Uber profiled at the opening of this report.

We’re talking about “Kutsuplus,” a distinctive blue-colored bus driven around the streets of the capital city of Helsinki. More specifically, this is a minibus capable of carrying nine passengers that enables smartphone apps to be used for arranging rides. Prospective passengers input their points of departure and destinations, along with desired time of arrival, in the app, which instantly generates info on where to get on and off and an accompanying timetable. The system computes the optimum routes to meet rider needs, enabling the bus to truly be operated “on-demand” as required.

With automatic deduction of the fare also included in this scheme, there’s no need to bring along bothersome loose change when readying to ride. The actual fares, while being higher than normal bus service, are lower than taking a taxi.

While the example of Kutsuplus is winning interest as an brainchild unto itself, it is also noteworthy for being adopted as one phase of the urban planning quest to transform Helsinki into a city where privately owned cars are nowhere to be found on the roads.

innovation02_sub03Use of smartphone apps to summon and pay for bus rides

Impact of the Move to On-Demand Public Transportation Systems

If means of transportation can be supplied that allow individuals to get where they want to go, when they want to get there, at prices cheaper than taking a taxi, there is the potential for dramatic changes in the trends of human mobility in cities.

If on-demand technology can be used with buses, it will become easier for greater numbers of people to get from place to place as desired. With such moves serving to improve transportation options for elderly people who have not been close to existing bus routes, expand use in locations posing difficulties in attracting people to date and facilitate other progress, the end result will be greater urban mobility and accessibility over the years to come.

Furthermore, with on-demand transportation interfaced into data systems, it becomes possible to accumulate and analyze human mobility data. Against this backdrop, such data is also being amassed and channeled into promoting greater progress for urban planning. With such potential in the works, we can only wonder how on-demand buses will come to revolutionize the urban mobility scene, not to mention the face of our cities themselves.



#01: The Future of Urban Transport Scene in the “Copenhagen Wheel Project” – A Shift to Smart Bicycles
#02: In the Era of Home-City Interfaces, How will the Human Mobility Experience Change?

TEXT BY Junya Mori (contributor)

ISSUED : 8 October 2015