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 What are Flexible Transport Services?

The domain of Flexible Transport Services (FTS) covers a broad range of mobility products (both for passengers and non-conventional freight transportation schemes) usually – but not necessarily – operated by Moderate and/or Small Capacity vehicles.  The distinguishing feature of FTS is that one or more of the dimensions of the service can be adjusted to meet the actual needs of the users.

This means that the route can be designed for the specific requests of the users for that specific trip, the time of departure or arrival could be brought forward or delayed to suit the customers, a bigger or smaller vehicle could be used depending on the number of passengers, and a specifically equipped vehicle or trained driver could be assigned if a customer has special needs.

Throughout Europe, a wide range of FTS have now been established, including:

 Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) services for general use in rural areas
 DRT services for general use in peri-urban and sub-urban areas
 Dedicated services for users who face difficulties using regular public transport  (e.g. elders, people with reduced mobility)
 Flexible services to replace fixed-line services at evenings and weekends
 Flexible services for areas of special demand e.g. airports, shopping precincts

The true potential of FTS as a contributor to sustainable mobility has not yet been fully exploited .
To achieve this aim further work is required on the knowledge acquisition, analysis and dispatching functions of FTS solutions. In addition,the necessary supporting frameworks required to deliver more effective and competitive transport solutions are not yet fully understood.

The potential use of flexible collective transport for passenger traffic and small goods traffic has important implications from the viewpoint of the environment and transport logistics.
There are considerable possibilities to reduce car and truck traffic, to save operating costs and to increase the level of service experienced by passengers whilst also encouraging the promotion of small alternatively fuelled vehicles.

Flexible Passenger Transport

Flexible Transport Services for passengers has several concepts:

  • Flexible Routes are fixed routes with on-demand deviations
  • Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) has been an established domain for over 30 years when it was conceived in the United States. The early history of "paratransit" was well described by Kirby et al (1975) and an excellent definition is offered by Lave et al (1996):

DRT services are those public transportation services characterized by the flexible routing and scheduling of relatively small vehicles (occupancy 4-20 persons) to provide shared occupancy, personalized transportation on demand. (Kirby et al 1975)

DRT is distinguished from conventional taxi service by its ride-sharing feature which poses difficult control problems, however when taxi service is offered as a shared-ride service, it is DRT service.

As originally conceived, a DRT system would accept telephone requests for both immediate and advance reservation service, develop a set of continually changing vehicle schedules (also known as vehicle tours) which would accommodate these trip requests and route vehicles to the appropriate passenger origins and destinations in accordance with the schedule. If both trip requests and vehicle scheduling and routing occur in real time the control problem becomes very complex when any significant number of vehicles ant trip requests are involved. (Lave et al 1996)

  • Car Sharing is a service in which a person subscribes to an association, which owns and maintains a fleet of vehicles, and can use the vehicle on a reservation basis.
  • Car Pooling or ride-sharing is a service in which different travellers share the same vehicle for all or part of the journey.
  • Shared Taxi.

Logistic Services and Combined Passenger-Freight

In principle all freight transport is flexible. In contrast to public transport, where a bus might run empty for the full duration of a trip (in the case of a regular bus service with fixed time table), freight transport vehicles will never run without having a payload to or from a customer. However, in the case of postal deliveries, delivering a single letter might, just like a single passenger, be very unprofitable.

If one wants to compare flexible transport services for passengers with flexible transport services for freight, one should look at the characteristics of flexible transport services for passengers:

  • a transport service often at short notice
  • either from door to door, point to point or a mixture
  • typically not ‘massive’ (in the sense of ‘limited number of passengers’).

In parallel with flexible transport services for passengers, within this project a differentiation has been made between flexible freight transport services and regular freight services, as follows:

  • flexible freight services: either have an ‘express’ character, or have as an origin or destination a single, not frequently served, address. In general the consignment is small. Typically the share of transport costs in the total costs is relatively high
  • regular freight services are not ‘express-type’ of services, often have origins or destinations which are frequently served, and consignments are larger (>1 pallet). Transport costs in general constitute only a minor part of total costs.

Having this definition in mind, typical examples of flexible freight transport services are

  • Express/courier services
  • Internet/home-shopping deliveries
  • Emergency deliveries

From the CONNECT point of view potential topics are

  • New ICT-technologies:
    • Electronic ordering (internet)
    • Tracking & tracing (both for process management and for customers)
    • Access codes for lockers/pick-up points
    • Real-time planning trip planning software
    • Real-time route planning software (including traffic info)
    • Automatic identification: Barcoding/RFID
    • Electronic payment
    • Etc.
  • New vehicle concepts:
    • Growth of delivery vans
    • Low-polluting vehicles for delivery in restricted areas 
  • New business models:
    • Pick-up points (e.g. Kiala, collection points (e.g. fuel stations), role of kültürhus, etc
    • Lockers at home (which can be used by transport companies when consignees are not at home to store the parcel/package)
    • DHL, UPS
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