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Smart Mass Transit Moves Forward in Europe

For apps like door2door, the future is on-demand bus services

June 2, 2017 | Retail & Ecommerce

App-based, ride-hailing services like Uber have become a popular transportation option in many major cities across Europe. But they’ve also come under fire from the region’s traditional taxi service providers for skirting established industry regulations.

Uber-style disruption isn’t the only way to harness the power of digital to improve transportation, however. Some recent efforts offer a less confrontational approach to digitally enhancing the way people get around.

In Germany, Berlin-based startup door2door announced a plan this week to create the country’s first on-demand mass transport solution for a rural area in the Bavarian Forest town of Freyung.

Scheduled to start in September, door2door’s service will supplement Freyung’s local public transport system by providing small shuttle buses that can be ordered on-demand using a smartphone app. To accommodate multiple passengers with multiple destinations in a system without a set pickup schedule or fixed routes, door2door’s technology calculates optimal itineraries, as well as the best use of the fleet to meet demand.

Door2door launched trials of a similar service called allygator shuttle in an area of Berlin last August. At the time, the company said it planned to expand the service to other cities in Germany, as well as to other countries.

In what could be construed as a dig at rule-bending upstarts like Uber, door2door also noted that all allygator drivers had passenger transport licenses in accordance with German regulations. And in announcing the initiative, company CEO Maxim Nohroudi noted that its approach “is based on cooperation with municipalities and urban transport providers to create fair and innovative solutions for urban public transport.”

Berlin isn’t the only European capital where public transport is being reassessed through a digital lens. In London last month, transport app Citymapper completed a three-day test of a pop-up bus route in conjunction with the city’s transit authority, Transport for London.

Mobility* App User Penetration in Select Countries in Europe, Feb 2017 (% of population)

Unlike door2door’s efforts, the Citymapper Smartbus project ran on a fixed route using existing bus stops. The trial was part of a push to “rethink” how bus systems operate and to reassess routes to improve efficiency with help from demand and trip data of Citymapper users.

Transport apps like Citymapper and ride-hailing services like Uber have already transformed how tech-friendly smartphone users in Europe get around cities.

According to a February 2017 survey by Dalia Research, between 20% and 30% of the populations ages 14 to 65 in France, Germany and the UK had used a mobility app to request a ride, share a car, rent a bike or access another option along those lines in the 12 months prior to polling. Usage was even higher elsewhere in the region: 38% in Russia, 35% in Spain and Sweden, and 34% in Norway.

Expanding the mobility app sphere to include options like on-demand bus services—both in cities and in areas like Freyung with more limited transport options—could see usage of such services grow exponentially.

—Cliff Annicelli

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