[UPDATE] This article contains many relevant findings and conclusions, but represents the status as of September 2020 (with minor updates in November). Therefore, I decided to write a follow-up to recap the year 2020. You can find it here: On-Demand Ridepooling Market: 2020 Recap
On-Demand Ridepooling is one of the most promising mobility innovations of late, offering the long sought-after bridge between efficient mass transit and convenient individual mobility. Manifold pilot projects have been conducted in many cities and rural areas around the globe in the past three to four years. Time to take a look at the current state of the industry by mapping On-Demand Ridepooling projects around the globe.
Some Definitions & Context
Demand-Responsive Transit (DRT) is not a new phenomenon. In many countries across the globe, flexible shared mobility services have been around for years and decades, be it public Call-a-Bus / paratransit services in rural areas in developed countries or informal, private minibus services in emerging markets. Characteristically, they are either booked via phone and then dispatched by the operator (sometimes using pen & paper, sometimes via dedicated dispatching software), or they are street-hailed, some with fixed starting and end points, others fully flexible within a defined area.
This compilation of demand-responsive mobility services only includes those which use algorithmic routing and pooling optimization. To make this distinction clear, I use the term On-Demand Ridepooling instead of DRT, although other terminology is also common, like Mobility-as-a-Service, On-Demand Shuttle, On-Demand Bus, On-Demand Mobility or Microtransit. In the vast majority of cases, booking is done via smartphone app, although there are some examples included which put a human phone operator between end-user and technology backend to execute the booking (e.g. services for the elderly). The earliest of these new types of On-Demand Ridepooling services were launched in the early 2010’s, such as Kutsuplus in Finland or Via in New York.
While aforementioned definitions are also mostly true for Ridehailing services of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber, Lyft, Grab, Free Now etc., only dedicated shared — i.e. pooled — services have been included in this compilation.
The On-Demand Ridepooling World Map
As of November 2020, more than 380 On-Demand Ridepooling projects have been initiated around the globe, of which close to 300 are active today. This map is regularly updated to reflect new project launches and completions of currently operating services.
If interested, please see the Notes at the end of this article for details and definitions used for this compilation.
On-Demand Ridepooling is still a relatively new form of mobility. The earliest service included in this compilation was launched back in 2012 with technology by Finland-based startup Split: HSL’s Kutsuplus service. But it was not before 2017 that the market started to really pick up. 2019 has been the most active year so far with over 130 new services launched across the globe. While still in full swing, 2020 is so far showing mixed results by already surpassing the number of launches in 2018, but also with numerous launches delayed due to COVID-19 and most likely less launches in total than in 2019.
Project durations are still relatively short. Publicly commissioned (“B2G2C”) services run in average for 12 months with most projects framed in a defined duration due to public procurement policies or because of their pilot character. B2B2C services like employee commuter shuttles also run in average for 12 months, but this market segment was last to be unlocked by On-Demand Ridepooling and therefore a large number of projects has been running for relatively short time and might outlast publicly contracted services. B2C services have been operating longest in average (20 months in average), but there has been a notable number of market exits in this segment as well.
Given the fact that currently more than 200 projects are running, aforementioned average durations are just snap-shots and it’s too early to paint a clear picture of the maturity of the market in general.
In total about half of all projects were labeled “pilot” or “trial”, i.e. limited duration and oftentimes limited project scope (fleet size, operating area/hours). This is especially prevalent in the B2G2C segment where ca. 60% of all launched projects have been on trial-basis.
Geographically, the largest number of On-Demand Ridepooling services was launched in Europe. One likely reason are the mixed experiences with long-existing demand-responsive transit services in countries like Germany, France or the UK. Many of these services have long suffered from underwhelming ridership due to their low availability and out-of-date user experience. Digitalization of these services — i.e. increasing efficiency and improving user experience — as well as experimenting with “Premium Public Transit” service models were two main motivators for the public transit agencies to introduce algorithm-based On-Demand Ridepooling technology.
Similarly, the USA is one of the biggest markets for publicly commissioned On-Demand Ridepooling services with many projects launched in smaller-sized towns across the country.
Although the first projects in Asia were started later than in Europe or USA, Asia has seen a significant number of projects recently and is going neck to neck in terms of new launches with North America in 2020 (ytd). Besides Singapore, which hosted multiple pilots incl. LTA’s ultimately not successful On-Demand Public Bus Trial in 2018, Japan has become a market of increasing momentum as On-Demand Ridepooling is regarded as viable alternative to fixed-route bus lines in rural areas with major demographic challenges (disproportionately high number of elderly and dramatic absence of able-bodied bus drivers). Consequently, multiple On-Demand Ridepooling Technology Providers have recently entered the Japanese market or have been founded in Japan, like Softbank and Toyota’s joint-venture MONET.
Overall the Technology Provider Market has produced a large number of startups and corporate startups in all regions. Many large corporations have invested in startups or set up own ventures, such as Volkswagen (MOIA), Daimler (moovel, Via / ViaVan), Deutsche Bahn (ioki, CleverShuttle), Ford (Chariot, Transloc), Siemens (Padam), Intel (moovit), Toyota/Softbank (MONET) or Mitsubishi (Spare). TNCs have also been active in the On-Demand Ridepooling market, some to add a low-budget pooled alternative to their Ridehailing services (e.g. UberPool, GrabShare, FreeNow Match or Lyft Shared ), some to enter markets with special characteristics (e.g. Uber Bus or recently discontinued Careem Bus and GrabShuttle), and recently also as service offering towards cities (e.g. various Didi Chuxing Dynamic Bus projects in China or the Uber-powered Marin County Connect service in California).
Quantitatively, the race is currently unambiguously led by Via with close to 100 projects launched. The battle for #2 in this ranking is hard-fought by a handful contenders, notable amongst them smaller startups like Spare Labs., RideCo or Shotl.
When examining the Use-Cases of the services, by far largest number of projects are some sort of Public Transit (“B2G2C”), be it first/last mile feeder services to train stations, city-wide night-time services, low-density residential area services or rural DRT. The focus on low demand areas and daytimes reflects the systemic characteristics of traditional public transit, which is most efficient when bundling large numbers of passengers on main corridors (thus “mass transit”), but extremely costly — and oftentimes in consequence qualitatively stripped down to the minimum — in areas and daytimes of low demand. Here, On-Demand Ridepooling is expected to provide a more efficient and user-centric solution than fixed-route, fixed-schedule lines. Many of these services offer rides at the same price as regular local bus fares, some accept season passes and a small number is deeply integrated into the conventional public transit network by offering intermodal trips which combine fixed-route and demand-responsive trip legs.
B2C Ridepooling comes second with varying use-cases, such as city-wide vs. local services, or premium vs. budget services. The number of service launches in this segment was almost constant in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but Ford pulling the plug on Chariot in early 2019 and CleverShuttle’s de facto closedown in Spring 2020 have put B2C Ridepooling behind the the B2B2C segment in terms of currently running services.
B2B2C use-cases are characterized mainly by access-controlling eligible users, like employee commuter services, university campus shuttles or school transport. This segment is mostly controlled by established local private Transportation Service Providers that are now seizing the opportunity of digitalization to upgrade their existing services.
The field of Non-Emergency Medical Transport (NEMT) and other forms of assisted mobility currently constitutes the smallest group of projects, but could pose a relevant segment in future.
Project sizes — measured by the size of the deployed fleet — are still relatively small. In average across all types of projects, business models, regions and use-cases, On-Demand Ridepooling services are operating with just 20 vehicles. However, business model and fleet size correlate and B2C services average at over 100 vehicles. Via’s High-Volume For-Hire (aka B2C Ridepooling) service in New York City peaked at over 6,000 unique vehicles in 2019 which are operated mostly by self-employed drivers; and the largest B2C Ridepooling service with company-employed drivers is MOIA with over 300 purpose-built electric vehicles in Hamburg, Germany.
Reflecting their predominant use-cases in low-density areas or daytimes, B2G2C services are much smaller with an average fleet size of only eight vehicles and the largest services not exceeding 50 vehicles in a contiguous operating area . B2B2C fleets are slightly bigger (12 vehicles in average), but this market segment is still the least developed and thus might see larger fleets in future.
On-Demand Ridepooling has become a global phenomenon. Since 2017, the market is growing strongly and is showing positive trends despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 2019 has been a particularly good year with over 130 launches, thereof more than 90 by Public Transit Agencies (“B2G2C”). However, as ca. 60% of these projects are on trial-basis, the future prospect of the On-Demand Ridepooling industry might strongly depend on how many of these will be transitioned into commercial services after their pilot phase. Inherent in many of these B2G2C pilot projects are their limited scope and size. It remains to be seen if piloting On-Demand Ridepooling in small operating areas with very small fleets will be a compelling value-proposition to attract passengers beyond the already locked-in user groups. Once concluded, the evaluation of New South Wales’ On-Demand Public Transit pilot program with its large number of trials with different use-cases, service designs and technology providers might serve as important indicator whether On-Demand Ridepooling will manage to establish itself as part of the permanent public mobility service landscape, or if today’s technology startups will join the ranks of legacy DRT software makers of the likes of AnSaT or ADEPT.
As for the B2C Ridepooling segment, there are strong parallels to the current situation of B2C Ridehailing with regulation, cost of operations and fierce competition posing major challenges. Autonomous Driving clearly is the endgame and once it’s market-ready, there are strong indications that this segment will become a major force in the urban mobility mix as cities are likely to enforce fleet size limits, which will make pooling an operational and commercial necessity.
So far, the vast majority of On-Demand Ridepooling services has been introduced in developed countries, i.e. nations with (comparatively) high quality public transit networks, well maintained public infrastructure and high income levels, which consequently oftentimes confines On-Demand Ridepooling to a supporting role to other modes of transport. And while by supplementing conventional public transit On-Demand Ridepooling can contribute to the overall success and growth of sustainable mobility, it might be elsewhere, where it can fully unleash its potential: by digitalizing the existing fleets of thousands of Dolmuş, Colectivos, Angkots, Marshrutkas, Matatus, or Jeepneys in emerging markets.
It remains to be seen which markets and use-cases will prove to be most successful, but it seems clear that On-Demand Ridepooling is here to stay.
Notes on the Map
- This compilation takes the technology providers’ perspective.
- All information in this compilation comes from publicly accessible sources; for some Ridepooling services that have been defunct for some time I used the Wayback Machine.
- So far, there is no exact definition for On-Demand Ride-Pooling. For this compilation I have only included services that utilize algorithm-based technology for the pooling and matching of rides. I have included types that operate fully dynamic within a geofenced area (like MOIA, moovit, door2door etc.) and also (selected) fixed-route services (like Airlift, SWVL, Jetty etc.).
- Legacy DRT services have not been included unless they have been upgraded with new tech.
- In the case of TNCs like Uber, Lyft, Grab etc. I have only included their dedicated Ridepooling services (like Careem Bus) and excluded their Ridehailing services (although in the case of Via’s US B2C services it gets a bit fuzzy).
- Not included in this compilation are ultra-short technology demonstrations that only ran for a couple of days.
- The “main use-case” classification might be a bit narrow as many projects serve more than just a single use-case. So this classification represents rather the character of the service than its transportation role in full.
- I have undoubtedly missed many projects, have not been able to find details or got some info wrong. Therefore, all quantitative findings above should be read with this limitation in mind. If you have information that can help improve this market overview, I appreciate your feedback!
 Not included in this compilation
 In case you are wondering about Via’s BerlKönig pilot project in Berlin with almost 150 vehicles, I decided to classify it as “B2C under G-brand”, meaning that Berlin’s PTO BVG is lending its brand, but the the service itself is fully managed and operated by ViaVan.