Suburban-Fringe ‘on-demand’ Algorithm Based Shared Transport

Project Background

A significant proportion of the UK’s population lives in low-density, car-dependent housing – and we keep building more such car-dependant housing. In the UK and across the world’s city centres and densely populated urban places, road congestion has driven the need for shared transport for people. This includes bus, tram, light rail, overground and underground rail services. This ‘congestion driver’ towards shared transport does not work in low density places. The shared transport in these areas needs to attract car drivers out of their cars. Decarbonisation is achieved by sharing transport and is further achieved by decarbonising the shared transport vehicle itself.

In addition, most houses in the UK are being serviced by one or more parcel delivery services, services which have increased considerably in recent years due to stimulation by the restrictions of the Covid19 pandemic.

If parcels and passengers share destinations and origins, it could be possible to further improve vehicle fill (maximising use of the vehicles capacity) – reducing carbon emissions and reducing the overall costs of the combined operation and thus optimised shared mobility.

Although there have been a number of ‘Demand Responsive Transport’ pilot schemes, they focus on the transportation of people as passengers and not on the vehicle as an asset which could be more efficiently utilised.

The ‘Suburban-fringe ‘On-demand’ Algorithm based Shared Transport’ project (SOAST) analyses the viability of a proposal that provides Demand Responsive Transport from any postcode to any other postcode in a low to medium density region by integrating people mobility with parcel delivery, and incorporates last mile parcel delivery from locker stations to front doors.

As part of the project, a virtual model was built and run for South Lakeland District. The model can also run simulations for any area of the country with a multitude of input variables. The SOAST system demonstrated an overall cost reduction in the range of 12-35% shared between operators and passengers.

The research team’s analysis showed that pooling passenger and parcel delivery can potentially deliver economic benefits across the combined operation, reducing the cost of rural public transport and parcel deliveries whilst maintaining service levels and also improving the utility of public transport.

The team at Heriot-Watt University intend to extend the research further, hoping to set up pilot projects across the country to test bespoke modelling scenarios and to fully evaluate the SOAST system.

Find more information here

Project Lead 

Roderick MacDonald 

Co-investigators/ PhDs/ RAs 


UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC)