Crowd buses have become part of the millennial social media revolution
For most of us, smart phones are an essential part of modern life, and we happily use applications to hail a cab, book a hotel, or find a restaurant.
Modern users can access services such as Uber to hire a driver, and AirBnB helps travellers find cheap rooms.
Now, a new revolution is underway and crowd-sourcing applications are changing how we approach transport in the form of crowd buses.
Imagine being able to book a seat on a bus that travels to a destination of your own choosing at the time that you want.
For many parts of the US, this has become a reality.
The Crowd Bus
Most of us are familiar with transport apps such as Uber and Lyft, where we can use a smartphone to connect with a driver who will take us to our destination.
As they spread across the globe, these programs have used modern telecommunications to change transportation.
However, while these third-party applications are extremely useful and provide flexibility for passengers, they are not the complete solution.
What happens if you need to travel longer distances, or if you are part of a group that is simply too large to fit into a car?
The answer to these questions is one of the various crowd bus applications.
Building upon the established ride-sharing technology, these new third-party applications use the power of crowd-sourcing to fill charter buses and coaches.
Taking advantage of the new sharing economy, the technology matches travellers and commuters with buses that travel on the route they want at the time they want.
Travellers can use an app on their smart phone to organize a coach to take them to their destination.
All they need to do is send out a crowd-source appeal via a third-party, who acts as a broker, and find others interested in the same journey.
Users can make a public appeal for passengers and use social media to publicise the trip.
Once enough people have applied to make a trip profitable, the broker charters a bus and the journey proceeds as planned.
Smart Mobility in the US
Their business model has two sides:
- providing coaches for one-off events
- setting up additional bus routes that are not served by traditional bus companies
These companies act as ‘brokers‘ between passenger and coach charter company, and use technology to match demand and supply.
Their initial use of smart mobility has shown that the concept offers a number of advantages.
In the US, people have often been reluctant to use coaches, and many younger people actively avoided them because they saw buses as crowded, restrictive, and ‘uncool.’
Now, the technology is attracting the same level of kudos as AirBnB, KickStarter, and Uber, and crowd buses have become part of the millennial social media revolution and are serving a rapidly growing niche.
Experience in the maturing US market has shown that competition soon enhances the service by lowering prices and forcing operators to refine their business practices.
Crowd-sourced buses are often cheaper, and the interaction with users can help companies create alternative routes and improve services.
To stay ahead of the competition, companies in the US are presently developing complex algorithms to predict when and where services may be needed.
In the same way that Uber and AirBnB challenged their industries and forced change, crowd buses are doing the same for mass transportation by promoting flexibility and the ability to match transport to demand.
A company can easily hire the right bus for the journey, whether a small minibus or a full coach.
Another advantage of crowd buses is their environmentally-friendly credentials, which attracts the millennial generation.
As an alternative to multiple car journeys, taking a crowd bus lowers congestion and reduces pollution, an increasing problem in crowded cities.
The technology also creates a win-win situation for coach charter companies by bringing in extra business and creating jobs.
In addition, while companies such as Uber and AirBnB have received criticism for the unfair pressure they place on taxi companies and hotels, this isn’t a major issue for crowd buses.
Crowd buses tend to serve routes and times not covered by traditional operators, and work in synergy with public transport rather than in opposition.
Other advantages are:
- Once a seat is booked, it is guaranteed. You will never be refused a seat because the bus is full.
- Users can see the profile of the driver before travelling, often with the help of a rating system.
- Many brokers offer weekly or monthly passes, and you simply request a seat on the crowd sourcing application.
- Most apps include GPS, which will help you track the progress of your bus and find your way to the pickup point.
Travellers are not the only people to benefit and coach charter companies can use feedback and other information to assess the demand for optimal routes and improve their services.
They can plan detours, assess travel time, and include traffic information to provide realistic ETAs.
Most of the common crowd bus applications receive information from users, but also act as a central point for other information.
This includes coach availability, information from event producers and tourist agencies, and customer feedback, which feeds algorithms that can help predict trends and potential routes, further streamlining the process and matching supply with demand.
This technology helps the crowd-sourcing companies actively look for large, irregular events, tourism, and demand from new facilities.
Social media forms the backbone of the technology, and it encourages people to share and use word of mouth to suggest routes, hire buses, and look for passengers.
Feedback provided by customers is also useful for the crowd bus operators, because they can evaluate the companies providing the buses and ensure that they meet the standards required for safety, comfort, punctuality, and customer service.
Analysing information from passengers can help transport companies improve their services.
What is wrong with normal buses?
The obvious question is
Why do people use the technology?
What is wrong with normal buses?
Why can’t people wait at a bus stop or visit a coach station and buy a ticket?
Of course, there is nothing wrong with normal bus services and they are an excellent way to get around. You know the time and the route, and you can be reasonably certain that you will arrive where you want, on time.
However, this predictability and set timetable is also a weakness.
Although buses are regular and follow set routes, what happens if you want to travel somewhere that is not on the timetable?
What if you don’t want to take a journey that involves many connections and forces you to waste your valuable time waiting around in bus stations?
What happens if the journey you want to make is at an inconvenient time?
Public buses can be inflexible and do not always match demand.
Face it, bus companies need to make a profit, so they are not going to run buses on routes that have few customers.
Buses can be overcrowded and uncomfortable, with too many people wanting to travel at the same time.
Conversely, buses at set times can be empty and underused, costing money and damaging the environment for little return.
In the same way, bus companies rarely serve one-off events, which is very much the domain of charter buses.
Indeed, crowd buses in the US are becoming an integral part of event planning.
Bus companies cannot deviate from the timetable or tailor their services to match sporadic rises in demand rises during sport and music events, or tourist booms.
Crowd buses use technology to overcome the inflexibility of buses and have now become a major part of the festival scene.
If you need to travel a long distance to a popular music festival that isn’t covered by public transport, you simply set up a route and look for like-minded individuals in your city.
Many event organizers have argued that transporting people to and from events is one of their biggest restraints, so crowd buses are providing the solution.
Crowd bus companies can work with event promoters and their customer services to organize travel.
Some companies have focused heavily on the event market and use coaches to take passengers to live events including music festivals, sporting events, and concerts.
Importantly, they work with music promoters as part of a beneficial synergy that helps events attract people who might not otherwise attend due to the expense and difficulty of transportation.
Crowd buses will also allow producers to stage events in out-of-the-way locations presently inaccessible without a car.
One example of this was a company who filled nine coaches travelling from the San Francisco Bay Area to North Lake Tahoe for the Snow Festival.
The crowd bus concept can form part of the festival experience and taps into the event mentality, allowing you to meet likeminded people and socialize on the bus before the event even starts.
You will have no parking concerns and you won’t have to worry about your car being broken into or damaged.
You will not have to join the long queue of vehicles trying to leave the car park at the end of the event, and the buses lower congestion and improve road safety.
Across the US, crowd bus companies have already served numerous music festivals and sports events, including golf tournaments, and their social media ethos appeals to the millennial generation who are immersed in the online sharing culture.
Of course, event planning is not the only use of crowd buses, and they are becoming a boon for commuters in many cities across the USA.
While the technology is naturally suited to the sporadic demands of one-off events, in the US, crowd buses are also used by businesses in locations that are not served by public transport.
They can set up a route to help their employees commute, reducing the need for cars, lowering pollution and congestion, and decreasing the need for parking space.
One company that has moved into public transport is Ford through its acquisition of Chariot.
This shuttle service, presently serving San Francisco and New York, allows customers to crowd source routes and reserve a seat on one of its 14-seat minibuses.
Unlike the services based upon one-off events, Chariot is intended to serve commuters and asks users to vote for new routes.
The company will offer a service when the route becomes popular and, once a service is established, customers reserve seats via their smartphone and can be picked up and dropped off in convenient locations.
More advanced applications are starting to use complex algorithms to look for busy periods and optimal times, locations, and routes, allowing charter buses to provide irregular services when they are most needed.
Some systems also use flexible pricing, where customers can state what they are prepared to pay so that, if the bus is not full, they pay more and can still travel if the bus isn’t quite full.
While there will always be a need for regular buses, crowd buses are a useful way to serve peak demand and provide buses when and where they are most needed.
For example, crowd buses in the US are already serving music festivals and sport events, and are common at the start and end of university terms when students move en masse.
People craving the live music experience have fuelled a rapid growth in music concert and festival attendances, and crowd buses will be part of this for a long time to come.
As a major new component of the modern online sharing economy, it is here to stay, and offers a way of using technology to match demand more quickly than traditional chartering.
With success in the US and Asia, including Singapore, you can expect the technology to grow in Europe.