On-Demand Transport: Curse or Blessing?

19 Apr 2022

On April 12, the ETF Urban Public Transport Committee invited the European Commission to present their guidelines on on-demand transport.  Now, Dirk Schlömer, UPTC Chair shares ETF’s views on the topic.

The European Commission wants more flexibility in local public transport and has presented its view in a “Notice on well-functioning and sustainable local passenger transport-on-demand” to the Member States. However, this is not a legally binding act. Via this ‘soft’ policy-making approach, the Commission intends to make room for platforms and service providers like Uber, arguing that national regulations and prices for taxis and similar services are too high. When it comes to “On-Demand transport”. Often, the reasoning is that this would create a better option for citizens in rural areas.

Indeed, public transport providers offering on-demand services in Germany tend to operate in sparsely populated areas where conventional public transport services fail to match current demand levels because they are too expensive to finance. The public authority “Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr“ (Rhine-Ruhr Transport Association) has estimated a possible need for around 4 million additional public transport passengers and up to 300 additional vehicles for ride-pooling services in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populated German region with 18 million citizens. This is where, for example, taxi services come into play. They use public transport stops to pick up and drop off passengers, or operate as last-mile services in suburban areas, to pick up groups of public transport users and take them to their destinations. This is called “Ride-pooling”.

A similar service is currently being tested in Leipzig between the Leipzig transport company and the subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, Clever-Shuttle. These new services operate under transport contracts.

So, what does the European Commission have in mind now, with their on-demand transport guidelines?

Unlike the public transport authorities and companies, the EC initiative is not about visionary solutions for rural or suburban areas meant to attract new passengers to conventional and regional public passenger transport. Nor is it about creating a good alternative to private vehicles for people in rural areas. Unfortunately, it is once again about liberalisation.

The EC scrutinises the existing regulation of taxi licences, restrictions on Public Hire Vehicles (PHV) and requirements for education, training, employment conditions and prices. Requirements for vehicles, which are the workplace for professional drivers, are also being questioned.

Instead, the European Commission wants to give customers the freedom to choose who they get into the vehicles with and whether they wish to travel comfortably or cheaply. In reality, however, the EC wants to create the possibility for platforms and service providers like Uber to gain more prevalence in the European market. Having failed before national courts across Europe, and the European Court of Justice, Uber and similar companies will now want to re-enter the market with their next attempt. But which market are they really after? Most likely urban areas where most people live and such services promise greater profit. The existing taxi and PHV services will then be undercut and forced out of the market. Drivers on regular, full-time contracts, and fair predictable income levels will be gradually replaced by poorly paid ones, with poor or no training, operating poorly maintained private vehicles and ‘benefiting’ from poor insurance coverage.

At the end of the day, whom would you like to give you a ride to the city centre on a busy Saturday night: a well-trained professional driver or a person who does occasional driving to meet ends after work?

If you want to know more about the EU’s ideas, you can find the official announcement of the EU Commission below:

EC Notice on on-demand transport

To conclude, on-demand transport can bring interesting concepts. However, this must be seen as part of public transport with complementary offers, especially for suburban and rural areas, and not as carte blanche for uncontrolled competition with great dangers for the entire taxi industry, for employees and passengers alike.

– Dirk Schlömer, Chair of the ETF Urban Public Transport Committee