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UK Study: Variable Price and Attribute Transport System Could Replace Existing Bus and Taxi Services

A study by UK researchers concluded that a Variable Price and Attribute Transport System (VPATS) could, in principle, replace existing bus and taxi services while offering higher productivity, a higher level of service, and a lower level of subsidy. Given that taxis are among the highest emitters of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometer, higher productivity would mean lower environmental costs.

VPATS is not a new transport mode as such, but is envisioned as a more efficient, technology-based way of delivering a range of transport modes. VPATS differs from existing, operating Demand Response Transport (DRT) services in that the same vehicle (or pool of vehicles) is used to offer a range of types of services, differentiated by price. Demand for specific services is expected to reflect willingness to pay, and the offer of a wide range of bundles within the same operating structure could attract a wide range of travellers to the one system.

Some of the attributes of different service bundles could include:

  • The extent of pre-booking versus immediacy of availability;

  • The extent of sharing versus exclusive use (which will affect journey time and directness as well as more subjective factors such as personal space/privacy); and

  • Specification of the vehicle (image, seating quality, air conditioning etc.)

The broad aims of the study were to: test the hypothesis that higher-technology, more flexible approaches to transport provision would better meet the needs of the travelling public, including the travel poor; consider the operational feasibility of any alternative transport systems, particularly in terms of resource costs; and consider feasibility more generally, including any specific implications for the travel poor.

Travel poverty is not solely defined by limitations on disposable income and exclusion from the use of transport services on the grounds of price, but also on factors such as time available for travel and availability of the services themselves.

The VPATS philosophy is to incorporate as many existing assets as possible within the VPATS environment, alongside new market entrants, new types of transport service, and new transport modes.

Key barriers or challenges to the implementation of a VPATS system would include:

  • Operator resistance;

  • Integration with existing travel systems and infrastructure;

  • Institutional arrangements; and

  • Monitoring and management.

The study authors—from the University of the West of England and Loughborough University—conclude that VPATS is likely to evolve over a period of time, in both terms of modes of operation and scale of operation.

A likely starting point is the extension of existing taxi modes into a higher-productivity, shared taxi system.

Texxi. One example of a service headed in this direction is start-up Texxi in the UK. (Earlier post.) Texxi developed a system that collates requests for point-to-point travel from a dispersed set of travellers via SMS (they text-message by cellphone their destination postcode to the system), and then packages travellers going in the same direction into one vehicle at a discounted fare.



Rafael Seidl

This VPATS concept sounds very ivory tower and not at all commercial to me. Jitney service (called dolmus taxis in Turkey) is common in Asia, where many cannot afford a private taxi fare, let alone a vehicle of their own. The main difference to regular public transport is that jitneys do not generally ply fixed routes or adhere to fixed timetables. Instead, the route is defined ad hoc by the driver in response to the destinations demanded by his customers.

In the industrialized world, jitneys are rare (e.g. airport shuttles) because most consumers are affluent enough to afford a private taxi or vehicle. This generally gets them to their destination more quickly and in greater comfort. The only exceptions are if there are too few taxis available, implying long wait times or, congestion is so great that taxis get stuck and therefore very expensive to use. This applies primarily during rush hour.

There may be market niches for clean, comfortable jitney services in industrialized countries. The trick would be to maximize fleet utilization by filling multiple niches in the course of a week: commuters during rush hour, senior citizens and schoolchildren during the day, revelers at night, trips to the country on the weekends. In addition, the vehicles could be used to run certain errands (e.g. delivering packages, dry cleaning etc.) for customers. Moreover, the operator could also offer stationary services such as internet cafes and child day care at hub locations, where customers would switch from jitneys to larger buses on static routes for medium distance travel.

A central dispatch service could use a large cluster of computers to run software based on dynamic traffic information and simulated annealing to approximately solve the traveling salesman problem for each vehicle in the fleet. Thus, each incoming request could be assigned to the vehicle best able to handle it in real time.

Tokyo Joe


I dont expect too much comment from the blogoshere on this one. Anyone who can wade through the UK report deserves a medal. But it is a very interesting area which should not be underestimated. If someone can come up with an elegant solution to car pooling or transport sharing it could reduce fuel consumption significantly. I have been trying to think of a concept that would work and Texxi is the nearest I have seen.

I vividly recall a travelling experience in Germany 23 years ago using a hitch-hiking service called Mitzfarlen Centrale (or something similar - it was a long time ago and I didnt speak German then or now.!)

Basically it was a service matching inter-city drivers with passengers (hitch hikers). The driver and passenger contacted the MC office (I was in Frankfurt) and the office called me when they received a confirmation from a driver going to Munich (which was my destination). We arrived at the pick up point at the agreed time, paid a fee covering the company's service charge, insurance and a charge per km for petrol which was paid to the driver. There were three passengers, myself, my girlfriend and another person and the driver and his girlfriend. I'll never forget it. It was a high powered BMW sports car, my first time on the autobahn, it was snowing and we hit 200km/hr. My girlfriend and I clung on to each other in the back seat thinking we were going to die! Anyway we got to Munich safely in less than half the time of the train and cost us about a quarter of the cheapest alternative.

I wonder if something like this still exists in Europe? Using a similar concept with today's communication networks, cell phone, internet and GPS navigation there seems to me an opportunity for more people to share their travelling resources in a smart way and for someone to make a business out of it. I just can't figure out how. If we could do it with the old fixed line telephone 23 years ago surely you could do it better now.


The obvious solution is cheap ultralight single car pods on a very cheap and light elevated rail system.

As long as you get it light enough to use simple mass producable consruction you can slap it anywhere cheaply.

Basicaly think of a glorified hotwheels track for minicars up high enough to avoid road issues and with supports far enough apart so you have no land issues either.


Basicaly think of a glorified hotwheels track for minicars up high enough to avoid road issues and with supports far enough apart so you have no land issues either.

Ever been in the shadow of the Seattle Monorail?


This would be vastly smaller and thinner. Most likely a singlethin ribbon 4 feet wide or even a single track a few inches wide much like a rollercoaster only lighter still and slower.


This kind of thinking (combined transportation sharing on-demand) would work amazingly well if married with the AI piloted vehicles currently being developed for the DARPA Grand Challenge. The infrastructure and level of service could take some time to create, but the ease of use and efficiency could be amazing.

The hardest part of a system like this would be convincing people to stop driving large vehicles around by themselves. At least in the UK this isn't out of the question with economic incentives like road-charges.

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