On-Demand Transit Might Hold the Key to Urban Mobility

can be reached at marcusamick@aol.com
can be reached at marcusamick@aol.com
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Recent research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) indicates that the future of improved urban mobility lies in developing more on-demand transportation. The study also contends that initiatives simply centered on public transit do little if anything to help improve traffic in major urban areas, which raises serious questions about many of the current plans being mapped for the future of urban mobility.

  • A BCG report raises concerns about the investments being made in mass transit to create more efficient urban mobility systems.
  • The BCG research highlights the need for cities to focus more attention on on-demand transit services.
  • BCG contends that on-demand transit should be used to compliment mass transit, not replace it.

On-demand transit services are centered around offering residents a lot of flexibility. (Photo: Arlington On-Demand)

Looking to the future

A study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) suggests that the road to improve urban mobility needs to include more on-demand transit services, amid all the focus on other modes of transportation. In fact, the study, conducted in partnership with Via Transportation, contends that mobility strategies centered around passenger car-based services and mass transit, alone, are counterproductive.

To illustrate its point, the BCG report cites a number of studies that have shown that ridesharing actually contributes to traffic congestion, an issue that many cities are now seeking to address. But the report also suggests that many of today’s plans centered on mass transit systems won’t help to address the transportation challenges cities will face in the future. That raises serious questions about the methods a lot of municipalities have been adopting aimed at helping to enhance urban transportation down the road.

The limitations of mass transit speaks to the need of more on-demand transit services, contends the BCG report. (Photo: Marcus Amick)

Thinking differently about transit

From cities spanning London to Detroit, practically every conversation around urban mobility has included a major focus on improving those cities public transit systems. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has proposed investing $51.5 billion into the city’s subways, busses and railroads over the next five years, according to a report by Intelligent Transport. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has outlined a five-year $5.1 billion capital budget plan to improve the city’s bus and train infrastructure, as highlighted in Chicago Curbed.

But according to BCG, the growing cost to fund mass transit and the inflexibility of the systems, increases pollution and congestion and limits the mobility of residents in low-income neighborhoods. In contrast, the BCG report found that on-demand transit services, anchored by multi-passenger shuttle vehicles, provides residents with far more flexibility, given that they operate with no fixed schedules, no fixed routes and an infinite number of on-demand stops.

The BCG study looked at four different on-demand services: Arlington On-Demand in Arlington, Texas; Via to Transit in Seattle, Washington; West Sacramento On-Demand in West Sacramento, California; and BerlKönig in Berlin, Germany.

App-based transit services line Arlington On-Demand focus on providing residents with a more flexible mode of affordable transportation. (Photo: Via Transportation)

Complement, not compete

In Arlington, BCG found that 27 percent of the Arlington On-Demand trips have been to or from the regional commuter rail station. The West Sacramento and Arlington on-demand transit services saved an estimated 60 and 150 tons of CO2 emissions annually, respectively, by aggregating passengers into shared vehicles and eliminating solo trips.

The Via On-Demand service in BerlKönig currently includes a fleet of 130 vehicle, with more than half of those being EVs, helping to reduce emissions there as well, according to data provided by Via Transportation. The City of Birmingham, Alabama recently announced that it’s launching an on-demand transit program to help address some of the mobility challenges it faces to provide residents with more flexible, low-cost transportation, according to an AL report.

But the BCG report contends that on-demand transit should be used as a compliment to mass transit, not as a competing mode of transportation.


Despite the fact that the joint Boston Consulting Group and Via Transportation study focused on services provided by Via as the basis for its research, the findings still highlight the fact that a lot of municipalities might need to rethink some of their mobility strategies. It’s clear that on-demand transit services can be a major asset in helping to address the growing concerns with traffic congestion.

About the Author

can be reached at marcusamick@aol.com
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