On-demand public transport research underway in Timaru

Environment Canterbury has engaged global mobility and technology expert Via to assist in a feasibility study for an on-demand public transport service in Timaru. The service would help residents and visitors get around the city by booking a shared ride.

During the research period, Environment Canterbury will collaborate with Timaru District Council and Via to understand the needs of the community and design a suitable on-demand service based on those needs.

Environment Canterbury's South Canterbury manager, Justin McLauchlan, said that use of the public transport system in Timaru has been steadily declining for several years now.

"We have looked at a range of options, and believe that an on-demand, ride-sharing service where people are picked up from a nearby location is a viable alternative to the current service, so that we can continue to offer public transport in Timaru," he said.

"Via's experience delivering transport solutions across the United States, Europe and Australia will be invaluable as we develop a potential suitable solution for Timaru."

On-demand technology enables customers to book a seat in a shared vehicle through an app, online or by phoning a call centre, and the service's dynamic routing technology will, in real-time, match multiple passengers heading in the same direction along the most efficient route, providing an affordable, convenient and sustainable way to travel.

"We are delighted to join forces with Environment Canterbury and the City of Timaru," says Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via. "We have increasingly seen cities and towns ask how they can provide their residents with public transportation that radically improves the customer experience, and yet still achieves the same benefits of existing public transport. Via’s sophisticated on-demand transit technology is that solution for many cities, and we are excited to take part in this study to demonstrate how on-demand transportation solutions can benefit Timaru."

This project, which is supported by the Timaru District Council, is underway with community research planned for the coming months.

Timaru District Mayor, Damon Odey said that it's important that the introduction of any new service is well-researched to ensure it meets the needs of people in Timaru.

"As evidenced by declining ridership, the old one size fits all model isn't meeting the needs of the community.  In Timaru, we're good at leading the way in introducing innovative new services, and we're looking forward to working with Environment Canterbury and Via as they investigate how an on-demand service would work here."

Justin McLauchlan says that as part of their due diligence, a group of staff and councillors will visit existing on-demand transport schemes in New South Wales to benefit from the learnings of those communities.

"If we introduce an on-demand service in Timaru, it will be the first time that a municipal urban area in New Zealand entirely uses this sort of service for public transport. Both Environment Canterbury and the Timaru District Council needs to be assured that this is a programme that will work for our community, so we are sending a small delegation to meet with the teams who implemented similar services in Australia."

The delegation will investigate the implementation of an on-demand service including community engagement, service design, any potential barriers people might face, and lessons learnt of how to address those.

"As well as the investigative work in Australia, the project's research will involve speaking with people from across the community to determine details such as how frequently they would use the service, what their needs are, and how much they would be prepared to pay," says Justin McLauchlan.

Timaru has an active Public Transport Advisory Group (PTAG). Robyn Baldwin, a PTAG member and the manager of the Timaru Senior Citizens' Association welcomed news of the potential on-demand service.

"We are really supportive of this initiative to explore new approaches for effective public transport. We know that any service needs to be age friendly, but it also must have benefits for everyone in our community. We look forward to helping with the research stage that will inform what that service might look like and ensure that it is something that works for the community," she says.

The research stage of the project is expected to run until early next year. The findings from this stage will support project partners in deciding how to proceed with a service trial.

About Via:

Via is re-engineering public transit, from a regulated system of rigid routes and schedules to a fully dynamic, on-demand network. Via's mobile app connects multiple passengers who are headed the same way, allowing riders to seamlessly share a premium vehicle. First launched in New York City in September 2013, the Via platform currently operates in the United States, and in Europe through its joint venture with Mercedes-Benz Vans, ViaVan.

Via's technology is also deployed worldwide through partner projects with public transportation agencies, private transit operators, taxi fleets, private companies, and universities, providing cutting edge on-demand mobility innovation.