Uber model to target buses

uber style minibus bus service

Mercedes-Benz is to invest 50 million dollars in new on-demand minibus services in London and other European cities, which will work like Uber.

The first vehicles to be used by the service will be from the Vaneo range, but the long-term aim is for Mercedes to provide purpose-built minibuses optimized for on-demand shared rides, including on-board vehicle sensors, electric drive, and autonomous driving functions.

Using technology supplied by Via, passengers headed in the same direction are matched with a single van, increasing vehicle efficiency while relieving the strain on inner-city roads.

Passengers request rides through a mobile app, and Via’s sophisticated algorithm instantly finds a vehicle that best matches the passenger’s route, allowing for quick and efficient shared trips without detours that take riders out of their way.

The joint venture between Mercedes and Via will not only launch its own service in European cities, but will also license the On-Demand Shuttle Operating System tech to third parties, such as transport service providers and local public transit operators. By enabling vans to be dynamically routed between thousands of virtual bus stops distributed across the city, this innovative approach to public transport is claimed to reduce traffic volume in cities without requiring the construction of costly new infrastructure.

Suddenly the conventional bus is looking very last century

| “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport”

According to Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who made dramatic changes to the city in favour of pedestrians, “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.”

At its best bus travel can represent democracy in action, and yet in Britain we apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

London boasts one of the largest bus networks in the world. Around 7,500 red buses carry more than six million passengers every day of the working week. With more than nine out of ten residents of Greater London living within 400 metres of the city’s 19,500 bus stops, it is hardly surprising that the service is well used, but outside the capital it can be an entirely different story .

In answer to a parliamentary question In July 2005, the average occupancy for buses in Britain was stated to be nine. This figure includes the above-average occupancy of London, so the number of passengers on some rural services is likely to be lower still.

Even though most buses carry only a handful of people, the average fuel consumption across the national fleet is 98 mpg per passenger. It’s a figure twice as efficient as that of the average car, but it could be better still, and the service itself improved.

Given that most buses carry only a handful of passengers, it makes little sense to use a vehicle that weighs over 14 tons. The ride comfort of buses over the last six decades does not appear to have kept pace with that of cars, which is hardly surprising given that most are little more than heavy lorries fitted with hard seats.

The taxi buses that will be on offer from Mercedes may offer a comfortable alternative to 50-seater single deckers, but they remain susceptible to delay caused by congestion. As Uber itself goes from strength to strength, it will be fascinating to see how the service fares when it launches later this year.

Britain’s most ethical insurance company

The ETA has been voted the most ethical insurance company in Britain for the second year running by the Good Shopping Guide.

Beating household-name insurance companies such as John Lewis and the Co-op, the ETA earned an ethical company index score of 89.

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Twenty six years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance, travel insurance and breakdown cover while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.


  1. Tony Williams


    This is a striking example of how the availability of personal communications – smartphones, in this instance – may revolutionise travel.

    I don’t own a smartphone, I don’t live in London, I rarely travel by taxi, and I’ve never used Uber. I sometimes travel by bus. In London, and in other big cities, there is a good bus service and buses are readily available. If you live in one of those places you probably know the local routes likely to be most useful to you.

    It seems to me that those are also the places where the proposed Uber-style bus service is most likely to be practicable (as the quotation at the head of the article suggests). The number of people using buses would mean that there could be large number of the smaller Uber vehicles running, so when someone contacts the service via a smartphone and says “I’m at X and I want to go to Y” something can quickly be diverted to pick him up.

    That’s less likely to be the case in less urban areas. I don’t mean the countryside: there are small towns of 10,000 people that have a bus service running through on a main road, but probably not many other services. They may have a dial-a-ride service. The Uber bus may resemble that. Will it offer enough of a service to persuade people to use it rather than their car?

    In the larger towns and cities, I wonder what effect the Uber model would have on existing bus services. Subject to delays caused by heavy traffic, we currently know that buses run on routes and do so every ten minutes, or whatever it may be. The Uber model offers less certainty. We could expect that on a main road, such as Banbury Road in Oxford, one will turn up very soon. How long might you have to wait for one going to a destinations beyond the city?

    If the Uber model became widespread, it would disadvantage those who don’t have a smartphone or cannot easily use one. City dwellers might benefit. I’m not sure about those outside cities, and they might be worse off if there were no longer any regular routes on the current model. As I said at the start, we have here an example of how technology may change things to the advantage of some but not necessarily all. Calling bus travel “democracy in action” may divert attention from the objective assessment of the possible new services that ought to be carried out.

    Many years ago I read an article in there was a reference to 53-seater single deckers operating for much of the day with a much smaller number of passengers, and only being full during the peak hours. The report above makes a similar point when it says “given that most buses carry only a handful of passengers….” A bus operator’s response was that most car owners carry around three or fours empty seats on most of their journeys, but they think it’s worth it for those occasions when they really need them. Would there be enough Ubers in operation to carry all the passengers who want to use them at peak times?

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