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Driven to Change: How Car Users are Making the Most of DRT

Together with an academic expert, we delve into the transformative impact of demand-responsive transportation (DRT) on the travel behavior of car users, shedding light on how DRT is reshaping the way people choose to get around.

Jerome Mayaud

The world is grappling with the pressing need to decarbonize transportation and reduce our reliance on private cars. With passenger vehicles contributing a staggering 75% of energy-related CO2 emissions from the transportation sector, addressing this issue is crucial. Among the many policies and technologies that are being developed to reduce vehicle mileage and curb emissions, one innovative solution stands out: demand-responsive transportation (DRT).

To better understand how DRT is reshaping the travel choices and attitudes of car users, Spare partnered with Pete Dyson, a behavioral science and transportation expert from the University of Bath in the UK. Spare supplied Pete with a large dataset of thousands of DRT trips across North America, as well as our unique travel survey data, which he used to uncover the behaviors and attitudes of private car owners who are already opting to use DRT services.

Car users travel differently on DRT

Pete’s research revealed interesting patterns about how people with access to private cars use DRT services differently from those without car access. Car owners using DRT tend to be younger, wealthier, more male, and less likely to have disabilities. Their trips are slightly longer in duration and less frequent, and car users tend to be newer to the service relative to other groups – so they tend not to be early adopters of DRT.

Despite these differences, car users predominantly switch to DRT for non-discretionary travel purposes, such as healthcare and education. “DRT is shifting car users away from other modes, rather than inducing entirely new trips that otherwise would not have happened. We see this as generally a good thing, because it implies DRT is helping to remove cars off the road, rather than adding unnecessarily to congestion and air pollution.”

Car users have different reasons for choosing DRT

DRT riders with access to a car are less likely to choose DRT because it is more reliable or safer compared to other transportation options. Instead, they tend to choose DRT for reasons related to convenience and suitability to their needs. Statistical analysis revealed that a high-proportion of car users said they chose DRT for "Other" reasons in our survey, which suggests it would be valuable to further explore their motivations for switching away from their car.

Overall, DRT users expressed high levels of satisfaction, with 95% of the 1,800 people surveyed reporting they were satisfied with their experience. However, among the minority of unsatisfied users (85 people), a slightly higher proportion were those with car access, suggesting that these users might have higher service expectations or different needs. It will be crucial for public transit agencies to address these shortfalls if they want to retain car users as DRT riders.

Implications for society, the environment and commercial strategy

In terms of the social implications of his research, Pete recommends that DRT operators should consider the diverse needs of their user base and to critically assess the goals for their services. While DRT plays a crucial role in providing mobility for those with limited transportation options, there is potential to attract a broader range of users, including those with car access, who appear to also use the service for essential travel needs.

When considering environmental impact, policymakers should recognize that DRT has the potential to create significant environmental benefits, because car users are replacing their single-person trips in private vehicles with more efficient, shared mobility trips. Over the long term, improving the appeal of DRT contributes to reducing car dependency and, consequently, lowering carbon emissions. Further research should explore the suppressed demand among car owners and evaluate DRT's role in achieving environmental objectives.

And when it comes to their commercial strategy, DRT operators should tailor their marketing, pricing, and services to appeal to different user groups. Pete points out that understanding the preferences and needs of both lower-income car users and higher-income non-car users can help operators expand their user base and improve service adoption. In turn, this leads to lower costs per trip, and a more sustainable transportation system overall!

Balancing priorities for a greener tomorrow

Pete’s study clearly highlights the importance of considering the needs and expectations of different user groups. He points out that DRT may contribute to reducing car dependency and knock-on environmental benefits, but to achieve its potential, DRT must balance social, environmental, and commercial priorities and continue to attract a wider range of users.

An important aspect to balancing priorities is the rigorous gathering and transparent analysis of DRT data. As Pete himself notes, “operators could follow the example of Spare Labs by publishing usage statistics and making data available to researchers.”

About Pete Dyson: Pete Dyson is a transportation expert and currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Bath, where his research focuses on sustainable travel behavior change. Previously, he was Principal Behavioural Scientist at the UK’s Department for Transport, where he worked on Covid response, sustainable travel behavior change and internal capability building. Pete is co-author of 'Transport For Humans: Are we nearly there yet?', a book that explores how the power of behavioral science can be applied to our transport systems to make them more people-friendly. Check out Pete on LinkedIn and Twitter.