New on-demand bus service you book on a phone
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New on-demand bus service you book on a phone

Scheme operating between Pembroke and Valletta

The on-demand bus service. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Imagine summoning a public bus through an app on your phone, just as you would do with a taxi today.

Malta Public Transport is hoping to entice passengers with an innovative new service: an ‘on-demand’ bus service allowing people to book pick-up at a specific time from a specific bus stop, with a bus showing up to take them to their destination, untethered from the usual bus routes and schedule.

The system then operates as a form of collective taxi, navigating a route between all passengers’ drop-offs and new pick-ups.

Branded TD Plus, the new service has just started running on a trial basis in a corridor between Pembroke and Valletta, with operators collecting customer feedback and fine-tuning the service ahead of a full launch.

“This is another service we are introducing to offer an enhanced experience for our customers,” Malta Public Transport commercial director Daniel Grech told the Times of Malta.

“There is a lot of demand for public transport in that area and this new service makes it more efficient. Customers can book a seat on the bus using the Tallinja smartphone app, which makes it more attractive,” he said.

To use the service, passengers first register on a newly-added TD Plus function on the Tallinja app and then request pick-up and drop-off points at any bus stops in the area of operation.

An enhanced experience for our customers

Pick-up time can be selected in half-hour windows and, once the booking is made, the app indicates the exact time their bus – the service uses smaller 16-seaters – will arrive at their stop. 

Payment is made on board using the Tallinja card.

Malta Public Transport says the service works to maximise the use of the bus while at the same time offering customers a quicker way of getting from one place to another by bus, also guaranteeing them a seat.

The fare for a TD Plus trip is €3 for all passengers – pricier than a normal bus fare of 75c, when paying with the Tallinja card, or €1.50 for direct routes, but much cheaper than a taxi – though this could be subject to change.

On-demand bus services have already been trialled in a number of countries worldwide, with transport operators looking to technology to reduce both congestion and costs.

Similar services already run in parts of New York and Chicago and trials have been carried out in the last 12 months in Singapore and Sydney.

Helsinki operated a public on-demand service for about four years but shut it down at the end of 2015 after deeming its cost to taxpayers too high.

Trial run

The Times of Malta used the TD Plus service on Tuesday on two journeys from Msida to San Ġwann and from Pembroke to Floriana.

Booking through the app is straightforward and in both instances the bus showed up at or before the scheduled time: four minutes after booking in one case and 11 minutes after booking in the other.

The operators have clearly aimed at a premium feel on board the buses, with comfortable seats each equipped with USB charging ports.

Both journeys followed direct routes between pick-up and drop-off and so made the trip almost as quickly as a private car – less than five minutes from Msida to San Ġwann. However, with just two other passengers on board for one journey and none on the other, it remains to be seen what speed and efficiency the system can maintain with higher demand.

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