Demand Responsive Transport: is Milton Keynes developing a post-Covid revolution in public transport?

Potter, Stephen; Enoch, Marcus; Valdez Juarez, Alan and Cook, Matthew (2021). Demand Responsive Transport: is Milton Keynes developing a post-Covid revolution in public transport? In: Universities Transport Study Group Annual Conference, 5-6 Jul 2021, University of Loughborough [Online].



Recently there has been a renewed interest in Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) and related service offerings as a system that can serve 21st century patterns of dispersed low-density travel. Numerous attempts have been made to introduce forms of DRT, but despite some limited applications, DRT has largely stalled amidst technological, regulatory, and economic barriers.
Significantly, the impetus for DRT is now from technology-led companies that have already impacted upon taxi operations and have ambitions to develop their products and markets taking them into mainstream public transport, and some more innovative UK authorities are developing partnerships with these new digital technology operators. This has been accelerated by the pandemic creating uncertainty about how public transport use will change, coupled with local authorities seeking economic and social recovery amidst financial pressures on public transport support.
This paper reports some results from an in-depth case study of one city’s radical shift towards replacing conventional bus routes with DRT. This is the partnership between the commercial DRT operator, Via, and Milton Keynes Council. In autumn 2020 an area served by one Council supported bus route was converted to DRT and from April 2021 eleven other supported routes in Milton Keynes were replaced with DRT, run by Via and largely operated using electric vehicles. With a growing fleet of 26 vehicles covering the whole of Milton Keynes Borough, this represents the most widespread urban DRT application in the UK.
This paper draws on documentary evidence, operational data and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, focussing on the operational, business and policy aspects of the system and how it may develop. Key public policy issues are identified in the cost-effective use of DRT, user adaptations and understandings needed, the partners and expertise required, and practices and relationships needed between actors for DRT to have a socially transformative effect on how public transport is provided and is used.

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