Although much of the current bus debate is centred on the structure of the industry, Leon Daniels says the ‘real news’ is app-based personal mobility

 

leondanielsLeon Daniels, Transport for London’s managing director of surface transport

 

To regulate or not to regulate? That is the question that dominated much of last week’s UK Bus Summit in London, but Transport for London’s managing director of surface transport believes that more attention needs to be given to the growth of app-based mobility.

Expressing his personal opinions, Leon Daniels said: “Whilst we’re arguing a bit about the structure of the industry, and subsidy and ticketing and information, the real news is personal mobility.

“The generic name we use is ‘market disruption by technology’, although in short we call it ‘Uber’. And when I say Uber I mean any private hire or taxi service that is provided using apps.”

When Daniels joined TfL in 2011 there were 57,000 licensed private hire drivers. Today that number is around 100,000, with an extra 20,000 in the last year.

“Any time of the day or night diesel-hybrid, clean Prius or similar is available to you in this city, and increasingly in other cities … It will take you to where you want to go.

“This is your biggest threat in the commercial bus sector. It’s cheap and it’s even cheaper if there’s more than one person travelling, and in many places it comes with an optional ride share scheme. So for three people travelling, whether they are friends or strangers, you can travel nearly as cheaply in many cases as you can on the bus network.

“And it’s on-demand, and it’s any time of the day, and it’s personal to you, and it’s door-to-door, and you are literally in a modern saloon car with air conditioning and even your own music channel through Spotify.”

The apps keep fares down by making the utilisation of vehicles very high (typically on hire for 50 of every 60 minutes). And he said that in selected markets these vehicles would soon start to carry parcels as well as passengers.

He warned: “Believe me because I have it in London already, that competition from personal mobility, app-based very efficient cars, through the taxi and licensed and private hire markets, is coming down the road to the commercial bus sector in cities and in our rural areas right now.”

He suggested that the demographic profile of the industry’s management – white, male, middle-aged – meant that it was not well equipped to understand this phenomenon.

“The young, and those of you who have teenage children will know this, leave home with a debit card and a mobile phone – that’s their transport, their food and their drink, and that’s what they carry with them. Those people will grow into become the mainstream adults in our society, those will be the mainstream of our economic activity.”

Looking at the 300-strong audience, he said: “We are not representative of the people that we carry, and we’re certainly not representative of the people we will carry in the future.

“I bet in this room people still own a car. I bet people in this room still have cash. And I bet we’re all struggling to make a phone call on our smart phones, never mind turn on the central heating at home.”

He added: “These youngsters are growing up with this in their hand and they will want the increased personal mobility, and the commercial bus sector has to rise to that challenge if it’s going to survive into the future.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the issue of smart ticketing, Daniels said: “I think it continues to remain really tricky that outside London there isn’t a single smart ticketing system, there isn’t common information. And we know from all of our experience in London that when that is provided ridership grows because it is the simplicity and the ease of use that is really very important.”

 

The full story appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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