Demand-responsive transport (DRT) a policy brief by the Interreg Europe’ Policy Learning Platform

DRT is a transport service where day-to-day operation is determined by the requirements of its users. Typically this involves users calling a booking service, which will then plan a route for the day to pick-up users and take them to their required destination. Increasingly, such systems are also using internet connections; via web browser or apps, to enable bookings. DRT, however, remains underutilised, despite its many benefits.

Demand-responsive transport (DRT) is a flexible mode of transportation that adapts to the demands of its user groups. In the past, it has been used primarily for its social benefits, increasing opportunities for people with limited mobility, or those who are socially marginalised. However, DRT can also have significant environmental benefits through reducing the number of private vehicles on the road, and by supporting multimodal transport in cities, acting as the first/last mile solution for linking communities with broader transport Networks.

The latest policy brief by the Interreg Europe “Policy Learning Platform” is fully dedicated to this transport service underutilised, despite its many benefits. The aim of this policy brief is to highlight the benefits of DRT for European regions, outline some of the barriers to its uptake, and show how European support can help to overcome them.

The policy brief highlights some of the main advantages for territories such as:

Reducing carbon emissions and improving transport flows in cities: With more people living in cities, and greater increases in the use of private cars, public authorities are looking to support greater use of low-carbon mobility solutions, including public transport, cycling and walking. DRT can fill a particular niche in mobility plans for connecting suburban areas with transport hubs such as train stations and metro or tram lines, thus contributing to reducing carbon emissions and the number of vehicles on the road. A key challenge here though is ensuring that the DRT system is efficient and easy to use, overcoming perceptions that it is slow or inefficient. With greater awareness of ‘sharing economy’ principles, as well as uptake of ICT solutions, the emerging trend is for Mobility as a Service (MaaS).

Cost-efficient connectivity for rural populations: Demand-responsive transport can play an important role in rural areas where public transport connectivity is not well developed, and where running full scale public transport may be prohibitively expensive. Many regions have seen costs of operating public transport rise, and DRT provides a cheaper alternative, running only when needed. Rural areas need to be able to access services, work and leisure activities, which are increasingly becoming focused within urban areas. DRT can help to make rural areas attractive, preventing the need to move to urban areas for employment opportunities. It can also provide a solution for linking rural tourist destinations with existing transport infrastructure, therefore supporting rural businesses and rural development.

Supporting citizens with limited mobility: Demand-responsive transport has been developing in Europe since the 1960s, primarily as a service for people with limited mobility, especially people of advanced age and people with disabilities. In this mode, DRT supports independent living, providing mobility for people who may have challenges using other forms of transportation. These DRT systems have normally been supported by government or third-sector funding, though they can also operate through subscription and fare-based business models. We can expect DRT models to change through new intelligent transport systems and ICT, but solutions relying on these technologies may be out of the comfort zone of many of the traditional users of DRT.

Finally the authors of the policy brief, Simon Hunkin and Katharina Krell, draws up some recommendations:

  • DRT systems usually need to be stimulated by a public authority. By their nature, the potential user groups are often dispersed and fragmented and thus difficult to identify for private operators. Regions should take stock of the performance of their transport systems and consider where public transport is used, and at what cost, to see where it may be cheaper and more environmentally friendly to use a DRT system, as with the Tele-Bus service in Niepołomice;

  • SUMPs should be developed or altered to include DRT, considering linkages with other transport modes. The process should be overseen by a single transport authority, setting clear targets for low-carbon transport to show the long-term direction of travel;

  • Lead partner of DRT initiatives will need to bring all stakeholders together and manage the process of co-operation. It is the role of the public authority to consider the long-term aims and to set goals to meet broader public policy goals; focus on the issues of social inclusion and reducing congestion;

  • DRT needs to be made attractive and convenient if it is to have a wide impact. Communication should focus on the multiple benefits of DRT, and ICT should be used as far as possible, to effectively integrate services into public transport information systems;

  • Integration of smart cards and electronic payments can help to improve convenience of the DRT solution; but care must be taken to avoid alienating users who may not have access to those technologies. For example, avoid app/mobile only services;

  • Systems should aim to provide both instant and pre-booked service for maximum convenience, as demonstrated in Krakow.

  • Support is available for developing and implementing DRT systems; look in particular at using ESIFs and take inspiration from what regions have done before.


Read the full Policy Brief