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“DRT”: The future of city transport

A test fleet for a "Last mile" service is running in Berlin. (Photo: Door2Door)

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The "Last Mile Problem" is a major issue for all public transport operators: how to ensure everyone can easily and safely get home from the train or metro station? Tom Kirschbaum has the solution.

2025AD: Tom, let me ask you a provocative question: do you really believe we will have autonomous cars on the road by 2025?

Tom Kirschbaum: YES! There is no doubt in my mind that autonomous vehicles will be on the road by 2025, or even earlier. All over the world, tech and automotive companies have already tested vehicles on public streets for millions of miles. Not only tech giants are pushing for innovation and the development of autonomous vehicles - traditional automotive companies are also heavily investing in this new technology. In fact, self-driving taxi services have already hit the streets in Singapore and Pittsburgh.

The technology is advancing at an astounding pace. So much so, that I am sure that even buses will soon be replaced with autonomous buses. In Helsinki as well as Lyon the first self-driving buses have already launched.

Tom Kirschbaum, COO of Door2Door

2025AD: What will the world of autonomous cars look like?

Tom: Autonomous vehicles will benefit us all: they will guarantee safer rides and fewer accidents as the risk of human error is removed. This means vehicle crashes could fall by 90%.

Not only that, but these systems will run on crowdsourced data that will provide vehicles with routing information. Autonomous vehicles will have detailed maps programmed into their system that can detect potholes, parked cars, fire hydrants, traffic lights, trees and anything else on the streets. Based on this information cars will be dynamically rerouted ensuring that the vehicles will always choose the best route.

I believe that autonomous vehicles will also significantly improve the public transit systems of the future, as many or all public buses will be replaced with demand responsive transport, so-called “DRT”.

2025AD: What is demand responsive transport (DRT)?

Tom: DRT is a system with no fixed routes and no fixed timetables. Instead it runs on extensive data analysis and strong algorithms. A fleet of autonomous and interconnected vehicles will be dispersed around the city based on extensive supply and demand analysis.

In the future, passengers will be able to book a shuttle ride through an app and be matched with a nearby shuttle. If there is a new booking during the ride, the vehicle will simply be rerouted to pick-up additional passengers, because vehicles are only rerouted within a specific time constraint we can ensure that passengers’ detours are never too long, bringing all passengers quickly and efficiently from A to B. Because of the extensive data analysis, these shuttles will always run at capacity.

For the last three months, we have been running a shuttle service exactly like this in Berlin.

The flexibility of DRT allows it to integrate seamlessly into any transit system’s current infrastructure by enhancing existing services that are currently undersupplied. It can serve as a solution to the last mile problem by connecting more citizens to mass transport. It can be a solution that, through data analysis and transport insights, standardizes the already available informal transit in developing countries (most commonly known as combis); or it can be used in rural communities where demand is sparse and buses often run nearly empty.

Berlin: A huge market for innovative mobility services. (Photo: Fotolia / JFL Photography)

2025AD: You have been running this type of service in Berlin for the last 3 months, what lessons have you learned during this time and what type of response have you had?

Tom: These last three months have offered us incredible insights not only into the difficulties that arise when you launch a physical service on the streets, but also how needed a service like this is. The response from the press and our riders has been amazing. In fact, the interest has been so great that after six weeks we had already reached capacity!

At the moment we are running 10 shuttles every Friday and Saturday within a specific area in Berlin. Over and over again we hear not only how great our service is, but also how fun it is to meet new people while sharing a ride. We’ve heard more than once “if this service were available every day I’d sell my car and only ride allygator shuttle!” It’s very clear to us that our users are also drawn to our vision and are ready to see a change in their current public transit’s infrastructure. The launch of this service opened many doors and we are already in talks with many cities that will hopefully launch this service soon.

It has been wonderful to see our team expand and encompass a Field Operational Manager, dispatchers and the many drivers who have become the face of our operations.

I always get a thrill seeing an allygator shuttle pass me while I’m moving around town!

2025AD: What role will the sharing economy and public transport operators play in the coming of autonomous vehicles?

Tom: At the moment, privately owned vehicles remain parked 95% of the time. Most people know that buying a car is not a good investment, but because cars are so incredibly convenient, they have become an essential part of how we move around. However, since alternatives to private vehicles have become readily available through ride-hailing apps and other transport alternatives, our attitudes towards mobility has changed.

In a recent study, only 15% of millennials find car-ownership extremely important, with the other 85% ranging from expressing mild interest (25%) to complete indifference (30%.) Our attitudes have shifted from privately owned vehicles to ‘pay-per-use’ mobility, and we don’t mind sharing our ride.

This is a great opportunity for public transport operators as well. As consumers rely less on private vehicles, the demand for good transit alternatives and better public transit will increase. If transit operators can meet citizens’ demands through data analysis and dynamically routed shuttles, private vehicles will become unnecessary.

How significantly this could affect our cities was made clear by a recent study by the OECD’s ITF. It indicated that if we chose shared on-demand vehicles, a fleet of shared vehicles amounting to 3% of our city’s current fleet size of personal cars could meet all our transport needs.

Driverless cars will be summoned by smartphones in the future. (Photo: door2door)

2025AD: What will a world with autonomous vehicles and no privately owned vehicles look like?

Tom: When you start digging into the numbers, the impact of autonomous vehicles is simply mind-boggling.

For example, a recent article quotes that autonomous vehicles could reduce parking space by 5.7 billion square meters. In the same article, it was found that autonomous vehicles could free up to 50 minutes a day for each driver while commuting. The time saved by commuters every day would add up to one billion hours, and this could be even more significant if we move away from personal autonomous vehicles towards shared ones. We will never again have to waste time searching for parking lots, or maintaining our own personal car.

There are also significant technological benefits. Because shared cars will be in constant use, they wear down more quickly and technological innovations can then be adopted faster and more effectively.

2025AD: How will your company, door2door, and your allygator shuttle service play a role in this new world?

Tom: At door2door, we are focusing all of our efforts on building the technology needed to achieve this vision of tomorrow. We are preparing cities for the future of transportation by providing transport operators with both the algorithms to run dynamic buses and the software data needed to understand supply and demand in the city.

We work on site with public transport authorities to extend the range of services these organisations currently offer. We provide these cities and agencies with our novel technology solutions and help the latter become more flexible and user-focused by introducing services which are adapted to the individual mobility needs of their region. We do this through a holistic product suite, consisting of platform, analytics and mobile application components.

2025AD: How can we ensure that your vision of the future comes true?

Tom: The cities of the future will be safer and provide better access to everyone in the city. In order to achieve this, we have to change how we move around the city. This starts by integrating the systems of tomorrow into the infrastructure of today. Applying data-based analytics tools already allows for enhancing today’s services.

Furthermore, for public transit companies, this means integrating smaller dynamically routed shuttles into their system now. By implementing these systems now, we can initiate a seamless system while acclimating the public to this new system.

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this interview, it is this: Autonomous vehicles will be all over the streets in 2025. And the time to act is now.

About Tom Kirschbaum:

Tom is Co-Founder & Managing Director of Door2Door, the proud makers of the ally mobility app and the allygator shuttle. With an experience of 10+ years, Tom is passionate about the prospect of being at the cutting edge of the mobility and automotive industry. Door2Door provides a holistic platform for on-demand mobility services and mobility analytics, being a partner of cities and transportation companies in 200 cities around the globe.

Tom strives to build an encouraging and positive framework where each individual’s strengths and talents are given space to flourish. Alongside creating these conditions for creativity and opportunity, Tom is in charge of all our day to day business operations and development. He is spokesperson for Future Mobility at the German Startup Association and member of the Advisory Board „Young Digital Economy" with the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs.

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