Opinion Piece by John Langford-Ely

Tuk Tuk, Hitch Hike, Uber...BRIDJ

Our major cities are choking on congestion, population growth and pollution. In Australia, our population is expected to grow by 7.8 million, with 69.3% of Australians living in a capital city by 2031.

Better mass transportation, facilitated by smart technology, is going to play a critical role in the solution. Whether accessing employment, having a night out or visiting friends and family, better public transport can have a real impact on people’s lives. We know mobility is vital to social well-being, equality and our economic prosperity.  But the importance of affordable and convenient mobility is too often overlooked or taken for granted. The challenge is that the benefits are often indirect and hard to quantify.

Technology is rapidly changing how people live everyday, but it can take time and trials to work out the best way to leverage the technology available to us - to make the everyday easier. Take the sharing economy or the on demand revolution as examples. People are becoming more open to sharing their homes and services to make or save money (think Airbnb and Airtasker). Everything around us is available online and on demand, from movies and food, even doctors! The list is becoming seemingly endless as our daily chores and consumption requirements are made easier with internet access, automation and intelligent algorithms.

But can ‘on demand’ convenience optimise all areas of our life? Is everything best served ‘on demand’ or does this lead to unintended consequences? Talking about transport specifically, ridesharing operators like Uber have sent shock waves through the industry and their arrival has required governments to quickly rethink their policies. With an active database in excess of 40 million, Uber has reduced travel costs relative to taxis, enhanced booking convenience, allowed passengers to track their journey and generally provided a more friendly and comfortable experience. However, there have also been some understandable concerns, ranging from debate and tension around the employment conditions of drivers, safety of passengers and whether or not ridesharing has actually added to the congestion problem or not.

What is irrefutable is that a large proportion of the public are willing to embrace technological change if it delivers better service and convenience at an affordable cost. Only when public transit can compete in terms of convenience, reliability and comfort will we see people make positive changes to their travel habits, reducing congestion and pollution.

It means we are at a turning point. The public are increasingly ready to embrace technological change and governments are under increasing pressure to offer it.

This is happening at a time when there are all sorts of new and exciting technological advances being explored, from electric and autonomous vehicles to hyper loops! But there are also demand responsive bus services like BRIDJ that are here today, leveraging smart algorithms and big data to deliver more intelligent public transport.

So, the question we’ve been asking ourselves is can public transport be delivered efficiently as an on demand service?

Representing one of Australia’s leading traditional public transport operators, I believe that demand-driven public transport is possible, but to work, it may look different to what many might initially expect.

On demand transport as we have known it, involves door-to-door service of cars or SUVs. But the reality is that door-to-door on demand rideshare or carpooling services break down as soon you have more than a few passengers. Who wants to wait around as you zigzag through the suburb picking up multiple passengers from their home and dropping them off at their individual destinations? It might come slightly cheaper than a normal rideshare or taxi, but this is outweighed by the travel time penalty. That is not to say door-to-door services don’t have their part to play in the mix of mobility options. 

What we believe to be more effective, viable and convenient on a mass transport scale is what we  prefer to define as ‘demand responsive transport’ (DRT).

In dense cities like London it is feasible to flood the city with high frequency mass transit, but in Australia, the challenge is greater as we have large amounts of space, low population density and limited financial resources. Central to our DRT model is the concept of leveraging data intelligence to allocate resources more effectively –providing services right to where they are needed, and wanted.

DRT is designed to complement rather than compete with the existing public transport network. DRT can be used to fill coverage gaps, provide feeder services into high frequency trunk services, connect areas that have no direct links or to simply provide an alternative type of service that subsets of customers may prefer (and get out of their cars for!). We see DRT as one part of the broader mix of public transport options and we believe that an integrated approach to network planning can yield better customer and efficiency outcomes.

BRIDJ commenced offering a leading DRT service in Western Sydney in early December with the support of Transit Systems as part of a trial by Transport for NSW.

Passengers in Wetherill Park can simply use their smartphones to book, pay and track their journey in real time, all while enjoying a dedicated seat and soon, free wi-fi.

The trial sends a powerful signal that NSW is ready to embrace change that can lead to long-term, city-wide benefits. It puts Australia on par, or even ahead of, other major centres like London, Singapore and Los Angeles, where DRT is also being explored as an avenue to help their cities function better. BRIDJ has been learning and refining its offering ever since launching in the USA in 2014, and we will continue to do so now that we are in Sydney.

This is an exciting time for public transport in Australia and a much needed, and wanted, evolution for passengers.  In many areas of Australia, public transport is too rigid or slow to respond, causing people to still rely on their car to get to work or an interchange. There has to be a better way and I think demand responsive services will form part of the growth and evolution of our public transport network in this country, and abroad.


John Langford-Ely is the General Manager of BRIDJ, a demand responsive public transport company that is part of the Transit Systems Group.  Bridj was developed in Boston MA and complements Transit Systems operations across Australia, London and Singapore. BRIDJ, in partnering with Transit Systems, can draw on over 20 years of operating experience and industry relationships to help deliver reliable public transport services that Australian commuters want to catch, while maintaining affordability for Government.

Growth stats - http://infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/policy-publications/publications/files/Background-paper-on-demographic-projections.pdf            Uber source - bizjournals.com


Simon Langford-Ely