EcoBus pilot project: a door-to-door ride pooling system with demand responsive minibuses in the County of Northeim.
The EcoBus service was a pilot project operating in the rural area of Bad Gandersheim from June until August 2018. It combined different routes with similar starts and destinations calculated by an algorithm. Passengers could request door to door rides within an area of 100 km², which comprised the railway hub of Kreiensen, thus ensuring good connections with longer-distant means of transport. The population served was around 14.000 inhabitants, with an average of 4 buses operating simultaneously, and with operating hours (daily 8 AM until 11 PM, Mon – Fri starting at 6 AM, Fri and Sat nights until 2 AM next day) that covered different mobility needs. The price was the same as for scheduled public line service and tickets for EcoBus were integrated with those for scheduled bus and train service. Booking was managed via app, internet or telephone, ensuring to be easily accessible by different target groups. Reservations could be made for spontaneous requests or hours ahead for the same day. The routes were calculated in real time so that the passenger received a confirmation only after a few seconds. The fleet comprised 8 seater minibuses with special public transport equipment (automatic doors, hand rails, single seats with middle aisle, standing height, space for luggage and strollers), requiring the class B car driving license only. EcoBus is a joint project of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization Göttingen and the local public transport authorities.
The pilot project was co-funded by the state of Lower Saxony and the European Union (ERDF) on the one hand, and the Max Planck Society and the local public transit authorities on the other hand. The overall budget was around 2 million € for vehicles, algorithm, software drivers and call centre.
Evidence of success
•Technology works, ride pooling happens in reality.
•The system is widely accepted by the public: the number of EcoBus accounts is equivalent to a large number of the relevant population in the service area.
•EcoBus is perceived much more attractive than a public “call-a-shared-taxi” or “call-a-bus” service as the passengers do not have to deal with timetables and bus stops.
•Many customers would be willing to pay more for EcoBus service than for line service.
Reservations by phone are a considerable cost factor. The human factor is a big challenge (humans as passengers, drivers or call-center agents). Electronic maps must constantly be updated and adjusted. The realistic ratio between the number of EcoBuses and the service area is absolutely crucial.
Potential for learning or transfer
People loved the system and literally “waited” for such a system to be introduced. So yes, this is in fact a way of providing better mobility in rural areas. At present, this kind of systems is not yet operating at break even, requiring additional public funding. It is hoped to enhance the system so that the pooling algorithm works even more efficient and subsidies can be lowered in the future.
The practice showed that demand responsive transit like EcoBus is not suitable for peak hours (especially school children traffic) and for long distance rides (> 10 km) as pooling and bus allocation becomes more and more difficult.
In order to solve the problem of big areas, it is necessary for the EcoBus system to develop a reliable just in time link between the EcoBuses on the one hand and the scheduled trains and line buses on the other hand. Such a system has been introduced by the EcoBus scientists in October 2019 (running as “Flexa” bus in the Northern part of Leipzig in East Germany).
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