Personalising bus transport 🚌
Meet-up with Nicolas Back, UFT's co-founder and COO
Written by Stephen Evans
Bus transportation is environmentally sustainable, but services in rural and suburban areas can be inconvenient. UFT is changing this with their intelligent demand responsive transit (DRT) system.
The traditional model for organising bus networks functions well in densely populated areas. Buses run frequently, offering regular connections in multiple directions with quick links to other transport networks. The benefits are considerable, including less pollution, lower congestion and a reduced need for infrastructure investment. However in rural areas and suburbs, taking the bus is often a poor option. Services are infrequent and mostly they serve hub-and-spoke routes in and out of nearby towns. Although trips to the main local urban area are most in demand, often passengers want to visit out-of-the-way locations.
Dynamic transport corridors
UFT’s DRT system is a solution.
“Rather than being tied to fixed routes and fixed bus stops, buses run in broad ‘corridors’, collecting and dropping off anywhere convenient,”
said Nicolas Back, UFT’s co-founder and Chief Operations Officer.
Passengers indicate their desired route via a mobile app or web page. This request is processed centrally, and bus routes are redesigned dynamically in real time to suit demand. Waiting times depend on the popularity of the start and finish locations. The system can also incorporate fixed points, particularly transport nodes with buses, trains or park-and-rides.
UFT have tested this system in real life scenarios and it proved popular. Its Kussbus service operated in Luxembourg and on cross-border commuter routes to France and Belgium for a year in 2017/18.
“We found that people were very happy with the services, and were willing to pay more than twice as much as standard bus fares for a convenient service,”
Nicolas noted. The service was rated 4.7 out of 5 on Facebook.
“Driving is expensive as well as being environmentally damaging and is often a stressful, dull experience. Many people are looking for a convenient alternative,”
Software service provider
Although this young startup did not have the resources to sustain the Kussbus service beyond a year, the experience tested the concept and enabled them to refine the technology. UTF’s focus is now on selling this technology to existing mass-transit providers as a “white label”, plug-and-play service. They have recently made their first major sale. The national Austrian transport operators ÖBB Postbus are set to offer DRT on a software-as-a-service basis to regional bus operators.
“Our system is the way to maximise occupancy rates. With Kussbus we averaged more than 75% weekly,”
Nicolas said. Digitalisation also brings other savings. The end of fixed bus routes means operators avoid the cost of updating bus schedules and maintaining fixed bus stops. All this without the need for capital expenditure.
Clients also benefit from receiving a wealth of data about service quality and clients’ transport preferences. UFT have developed analysis tools to help clients detect emerging trends and anticipate changing needs. Customisable dashboards enable visualisation with heat-maps, origin-destination matrices, graphs, animations, and downloadable reports. Projections can be made from this data.
The Lux Future Lab experience
Founded in 2016 in Luxembourg, UFT moved into the Lux Future Lab a year and a half ago, and they currently have 12 employees.
“Being here has many advantages. For one thing it is a good way to attract and retain staff, as our people like coming to these centrally-located offices with the positive, collaborative atmosphere we have here,”
Nicolas said. Also, this is a place where it is easy to exchange ideas and learn from others, whether they be dedicated experts or other startups. It also helps with cash-flow that the rent is reasonable.
In short, Lux Future Lab offers the support UFT need as they work to find new markets and refine their services.