xTransit – The Third Way of Getting Around in Cities

Our 21st century cities and those of us who live and work in them have transportation requirements that have little in common with the historical patterns. Our actual service needs are closer to what we can see in successful car-based systems than the patterns associated with traditional public transport. That is to say, user requirements in this new-life system are for the most part not linear (i.e., many-to-many) , nor strictly time-cadenced.

The Third Way of Getting Around in Cities


21st century mobility requirements are highly varied over time and space, involving an ever-changing kaleidoscopic mix of many origins, many destinations, many different times and many different levels of traveller preference and economic and time constraints. Requirements that seemed to have been well served in the past, for a privileged minority at least, when our cities were far smaller, less encumbered, drivers relatively few, and the planet and its resources seemingly infinite by comparison to the burden of a system that served a small minority.

But we are living in a very new and different century, the picture has changed massively, and it now time to look afresh at the full range of options and possibilities capable of serving a many-to-many world without an abject dependence on own-cars. It is in fact time to reinvent transport in cities. Let’s start with the x factor of transport in cities.

xTransit was a name we dug up some years back in order to first to group and then to understand a broad and varied class of transportation services that have in common that they get people in and around cities in road vehicles, smaller than full sized buses, driven by real human beings, dynamically shared with others, and in best cases aided by state of the art communications technologies — and all of that as no less than the vital supplement needed to offer “car-quality” mobility in most of our ever-more crowded, ever-more environmentally stressed 21st century cities, without killing the cities themselves. Almost all of these services are what we can think of as “enterprise transport” and operate outside of the formal or (public) corporate sector, which is at once their great strength, and their weaknesses. But the latter can be turned around by wise governance and understanding. Let’s work together to give xTransit its chance.

This class of services is of course not going to replace all cars. Nor will they drive the traditional public transport providers out of business. But they are going to profoundly alter the transportation scene and user choice spectrum in our cities around the world. As you will see, the multi-level New Mobility configuration, of which they are an important element, draws together a comprehensive web of varied and complementary services.

What we call xTransit is by no means original to World Streets and is known by any of a number of names and modal classes, depending on place and the vision of those who assign it. Among these some of the better known include: Intermediate public transport modes, Intermediate Means of Transport (IMTs), intermediate transport, paratransit, private/public transport, enterprise transport, etc. (And by many of the more traditional providers of classic public transport services as “unfair transport”. )

In fact we might as well call it “ubiquitous transport”, since in truth you can find xTransit by any of hundreds of names in virtually every city on the planet, playing very important roles in cities in the developing world. Another way to think of it is as “invisible transport” at least when it comes to planning and policy where in most places it is all but entirely un-integrated into the city’s global. planned mobility system. There are of course problems as a results of this combination of ubiquity and invisibility, but once we have decided to work with them these challenges ca be faced and greatly assuaged.

There is a great deal of work that remains to be done, and blinders to be cast off, if one day in the near future xTransit and its many variants is to make its full contributions in the cities around the world. But if we get it right, our citizens and our cities will greatly benefit. And so too will the planet.


Very Short History

If you are looking for some of the historic building blocks that have in their various ways opened the way for what is now going to take place far more quickly than probably even you think: “Old” New Mobility Agenda, which you may know in the past, including such as shared taxis, dial-a-ride, DRT, Demand Responsive Transport, paratransit, and the long list goes on. Take any and all of those, and then complete the logistics/communications chain with internet and mobile phones — and a no less important wholesale redefinition of the legal and regulatory context — and there you have it: xTransit.

Here’s how Ron Kirby and Kisten Bhat of the Urban Institute diagramed it in 1974 in their path-breaking report: Para-transit: Neglected options for urban mobility (ISBN: 0877661219).

famous paratransit diagram - Kirby et al

And what’s the big difference with these same concepts many of which have been around for decades? It’s the technology, stupid! Stay tuned and get involved.

Some xTransit reminders:

What xTransit is not:

• You and at most your family in your own car
• Scheduled, fixed route transit service
• Active transport (Cycling, walking, running, etc.
• Individual motorized two/three wheelers

What xTransit includes:

Taxis (even in the single client variant, as least as an antecedent)

• Limousines
• Group Taxis
• Jitneys
• Line Taxis
• Maxicabs
• Rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, pedicabs, cyclopus, auto rickshaws, etc.
• Shared Taxis (also called, among many others: Colectivos, Públicos, Peseros, Jeepney, Matatu, Gush Texi, Dolmus, Public light bus, Shirut, Molue, Bemo, Tro-tro, Poda-poda, Danfo . . . and lots more)

Demand Responsive Transport

• Dial a Ride
• Dial a Bus
• Taxi-Bus (Also Buxi, Busphone, Telebus, RufBas, ReTax, Sammel-Taxi, Texxi, etc.)
• Accessible transit services


• Lift-sharing (in UK also called carsharing. Watch out!)
• Carpools
• Vanpools
• Buspools
• Ride-matching
• Hitchhiking
• Slugging

Special Group Mobility Services

• Paratransit
• Shuttle buses
• Feeder services
• E&H group transit
• Medical transport
• Färdtjänst

Goods/freight delivery

• Small package and message delivery
• Grouped goods delivery/Clustering
• Freight Village
• Teleshopping


The other half of the xTransit equation

The logistics link:

  • IT/ICT
  • Central dispatching services
  • Back-office systems and services
  • Call centers and processing
  • On board information and communications systems
  • Advanced traveler information systems
  • Internet/website information (may or may not be interactive)
  • Internet/website reservation/ordering (interactive)
  • Ride matching
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)
  • GPS
  • Mobile phones
  • Mobility centers

Fair Mobility for the Transportation Majority

“Who needs it?” “Why bother if it’s just for a few people?” “Let’s concentrate on the big problem.”

In the world of human mobility there is not one “big problem”. There is, for better or worse, just an ever-changing heteroclite confluence of a very large number of people, daily life realities, needs, possibilities, and desires. The old mobility vision of society is essentially one of striding workers, with jobs, fixed hours, trips, roads and the list goes on – all of whom to be served by our “normal transportation arrangements”.

Then there are “the rest”: the old, disabled, poor, etc., etc., and they too our bleeding hearts somehow figured out need to be catered to as well. Well, let’s give them a bit here and there too. But most of our money is going to be spent on providing mobility arrangements for “normal people”. That’s right, isn’t it.

No, it’s not at all right. It is wrong. It is wrong because it is grossly unfair and uncivil. And it is also just based on a false precept. Why? Because that splendid vision of society simply does not jibe with reality. It never did in the past, and as our societies age it increasingly is absurdly contrary to reality. Here is the surprise, the kicker:

The “transportation majority” is not what most people think, transportation planners and policy makers included. The transportation majority are all those people who increasingly are poorly served by the mainline service arrangements that eat up most of our taxpayer money. And each year, as our populations age this majority grows in numbers.

Here is a generic short-list of the people who make up this too now all too silent majority:

◦Everyone in your city, country or electorate who does not have a car
◦Everyone who cannot drive
◦Everyone who should not drive (for reasons of a variety of impediments such as limitations associated with age, psychological state , , , ,)
◦Everyone who cannot responsibly take the wheel at any given time (fatigue, distraction, nervousness, some form of intoxication. . . )
◦Everyone who cannot afford to own and operate a car of their own (And remember that costs a lot of after-tax money)
◦Everyone who lives in a large city and for reasons of density, public health and quality of cit life needs to have access to a non-car mobility system
◦Everyone who would in fact prefer to get around by walking, cycling or some form of shared transport who cannot safely or readily do so, because all the money is being spent on the car-based system which is fundamentally, and financially, incompatible with these “softer” and more healthy ways of getting around
◦Everyone who suffers from some form of impairment that makes driving or even access to traditional public transit difficult or impossible
◦All those who are today isolated and unable to participate in the life of our communities fully because they simply do not have a decent way to get around.
◦And — don’t lose sight of this! — you in a few years

And how are we going to provide for their mobility needs. Well for starters, by putting aside our old vision of the market and opening our eyes to the reality of the market. So let’s get started.


The strategic context of xTransit

“How street space is allocated, priced, and managed tells people how to travel”.
– Michael A. Replogle, Environmental Defense, 5 Jan 2005 and said right here

A full and proper understanding of the actual context of this thing we are calling xTransit is vital to figuring out what if anything to do next with this concept and way of helping people to get around in our cities, and, yes, small communities as well. Without the context by way of background this is only one more of those many ideas, maybe good, maybe bad, that we can chat about forever and as the damage from the old dysfunctional system continues to mount day after day. But as I hope you know that is not what we are trying to do here at the New Mobility Agenda.

For a pretty good and fairly detailed introductory overview on the overall problematique as we see it, we can refer you to the “Here’s our problem” opening section of the Kyoto World Cities 20/20 Challenge at http://www.kyotocities.org. But in the meantime and with one eye to the clock, what about accepting the following as a rather good surrogate for the rest when it comes to the dysfunctionalities — thereby putting aside for the moment our very real concerns with pollution, economic costs, health impacts, taxpayer burden and the long list goes on (as you will see if you turn to the full treatment)? But let’s simply for the purpose of putting xTransit into perspective think about all this for now as if the only problem that concerns us immediately is that of . . . the (egregious) space requirements of the “old mobility” (that is car-dominated) system.

The key to the New Mobility Agenda in cities lies in what is basically a two pronged approach: (a) aggressive, strategic infrastructure management and (b) parallel creation of a wide range of first class, desirable alternatives to the old mobility system which is now to be gently moved out of the city (or more realistically be greatly reduced in target areas and times), all while being left as a personal option for other transport as people may wish. (Bearing in mind that recent studies provide evidence that Swiss and German city dwellers who get to work and into the center by non-car means, nonetheless for the most part continue to own and use own cars for less dense travel and in the off peak).

The strategy is to withdraw steadily street space from “normal mixed use” and transfer it to more space efficient users, via programs of signage, traffic management, surface treatments and compliance monitoring. And this long list runs all the way from people walking and cycling in safety to traditional scheduled public transport plying fixed routes. That’s a beginning, but is not going to be enough in most cities and their environs where the actual pattern of origins, destinations, and times of desired travel has exploded to a point that new means are going to be required to cater to at least a portion of this growing total.

Which is where xTransit in all its varieties comes in: space efficient transport (that in most cases has yet to be fully developed and put into place) that is by dint of load factors a rightful participant user of the new high density streets and lanes.

That’s the broad strategic vision; now for the details.


Why has it lagged?

When the first demonstration systems began to appear in the mid/late sixties, most ran into the dual problems of: (a) the technology was not there yet; and (b) insufficiently entrepreneurial skills on the part of the organizers. What was achieved however is that these first systems broke the ice and various groups and people started to look more closely at these group ride, ‘third way’ concepts.

An even less successful series of attempted innovations — PRT or Personal Rapid Transit Systems (these entirely off the road, on their own guideways and (too) ambitiously computer controlled from start to finish) — which despite being the beneficiaries of one, two, even three orders of magnitude more investment also bit the dust. But they too started various players around the world to thinking about high levels of service, and the ways in which new technologies might provide the glue to keep them together.

But the most important barriers that have delayed the progress and on-street introduction of these systems have been above all the result of the many ways in which the old system protects itself form innovation and change. Here are some of these which have been at times examined by researchers, public sector agencies, entrepreneurs, activists, and others hoping to create a more open framework for innovation in this badly constrained sector that is transport in cities.

Which brings us to what is doubtless going to be the most important single target, challenge and eventual contribution:

“Channeled thinking” on the part of the authorities and most others concerned in shaping the transport context of the city

Next steps

Some of the key issue areas that now need collective attention if xTransit is to advance in time to make a difference, both as a global concept and in its various parts:

◦Better knowledge of preconditions for success
◦Insitutional, legal, regulatory and other barriers (incl. local ordinances)
◦Integration, coordination issues
◦ Financing: Who pays what
◦ Role of fairbox
◦ Integration of fares with other carriers
◦ HOV priorities
◦ Labor union (resistance)
◦ Trade resistance (mainly from taxi operators)
◦ Insurance, liability
◦ Safety
◦ Privacy

The model for our collaborative efforts: Perhaps, until something better pops up, our collaborative efforts over the last decade via the World Carshare Consortium?  It might also be useful to recall that this is an example of what we call a Self-Organizing Collaborative Network, for which you will find further background in the also in-progress Wikipedia entry on this here (own window). You might also wish to have a look at their entry on Knowledge Building, which relates closely albeit without the ever-important component of collaboration for change.


Some reading and references (2006)

Print references:

This list has to be considered as partial and indeed misses out on the many good non-English languages sources that have been cared out on our subject. But we have to start somewhere. We list these for now in the order in which they originally appeared to make their contributions to this new field. Note that after about 1980, most references to “paratransit” increasingly refer to what is sometimes called “handicapped transport”, in particular in the US and Canada.

•Para-transit: Neglected options for urban mobility, Kirby, Bhatt et al. Urban Institute, Washington DC, 1974

•Paratransit: Survey of International Experience and Prospects, Britton et al. EcoPlan International. U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, 1975

•Small city para-transit innovations, Connie A Garber Dept. of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina. (1976)

•Demand responsive transportation planning guidelines, Cady C Chung Mitre Corporation, Reston VA. 1976

•Paratransit: an assessment of past experience and planning methods for the future, by Mary Gallery, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, 1979

•Paratransit: Changing perceptions of public transport : proceedings of a workshop held in Mount Gambier, 20-23 February 1979. Australian Government Pub. Service, 1980.

•Jitneys: A complement to public transportation, Carlos R Bonilla, Transportation Center, University of Tennessee. 1981

•GSM paratransit vehicle tests, M Smith. Transportation Development Centre, Cambridge, Mass. 1983

•Taxi-based paratransit technology/operations packages in Europe, Francis E. K Britton, Technology Sharing Program, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, Washington DC, 1985

•Urban Transit: The Private Challenge to Public Transportation, Charles A. Lave. Pacific Research Inst, Los Angeles. 1985

•Technology and Business Opportunities in the Taxi Industry: An International Survey, Francis E. K. Britton. EcoPlan International, Paris. 1987

•Assessment of computer dispatch technology in the paratransit industry, John R Stone, Technology Sharing Program, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1992

•Paratransit in southeast Asia: A market response to poor roads?, Robert Cervero, University of California Transportation Center, Los Angeles. 1992.

•TaxiCom ’95: International Survey of Leading innovational Taxi Communications and operations Approaches. Britton, Rozen, Murga, et al. Federal Transit Administration, Dept of Transportation, Washington, DC, 1995.

•A Handbook for Acquiring Demand-Responsive Transit Software, TRB, Washington DC. 1996

•Paratransit in America, Robert Cervero, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1997

•Evaluation of automated vehicle location technologies for paratransit in small and medium-size urban areas, Gary S Spring, Transportation Research Board, Washington DC, 1997

•Contracting for Bus and Demand-Responsive Transit Services: A Survey of U.S. Practice and Experience, National Research Council , Washington DC. 2001

•Flexible Urban Transportation, by Jonathan L Gifford, Pergamon Press, 2003

•Intermode : Innovations in Demand Responsive Transport, Department for Transport, London, UK (PDF 1675 Kb) August 2004.

Web references:

• Innovations in Demand Responsive Transport (UK)

• VTPI on Taxi Service Improvements and on Shuttle Services

•Google 1: “Demand Responsive Transport/Transportation/Transit/Taxi (with exclusions to narrow toward usefulness)

•Google 2: “Shared Taxi/bus/transit (with exclusions to narrow toward usefulness)

•Google Ride Finder  (To follow)

Further reference from here:

This brings us to the end of this first introductory piece on xTransit. More will follow, but in the meantime here are some building blocks under development which you may find handy:

World Streets:  https://worldstreets.wordpress.com/category/xtransit/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/xtransit

Yahoo Group – https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/xTransit/

EcoPlan (2006) –  http://www.ecoplan.org/general/xtransit.htm

# # #


Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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