The Uber-fication of Public Transit with Remi Desa

Podcast October 18th, 2021

“We have to understand why people are not using bus service or public transit. If we can address that, and we can make it more convenient and more people want to use it, then I think we can put policies around public transit. But without that, it’s difficult to force people to do things when you don’t give them a better alternative.”

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Intro

Remi Desa, CEO and Co-Founder of Pantonium, sits down with Brooke to discuss his company’s innovative proposal to improve public transit: on-demand buses. Remi believes in a future where public buses can respond in real time to their users instead of following a set schedule. His concept has already been implemented in several cities in North America, demonstrating huge increases in bus ridership, and decreases in mileage and operating costs. Remi’s combined background in engineering and entrepreneurship has led him on a fruitful journey to change how we experience public transportation. 

In this episode, Brooke and Remi discuss:

  • The huge increase in digital communication and data that has made his vision a reality
  • The North American tendency to treat public transportation as a last-resort, instead of a viable, efficient option
  • The necessary spectrum between on-demand models and set schedule models
  • Maintaining public transport accessibility
  • Cities’ risk aversion to changing their transportation systems

Key Quotes

“Nowadays, communication is so cheap, I can have access to information about demand and where people are going. Pretty much everyone is walking around with a supercomputer in their pocket. And so with this added communication, this added information, we can help make much better decisions in real time.”

“To get more people to use public transit, we have to give them more options, so it doesn’t feel like it’s the last resort that they have to use. That’s a key driver that we believe helps increase people using public transit.”

“I think the key is helping the cities understand the value of the data, and what they can learn from that. So in some cities, where we’re able to run the entire day, during peak times and off peak times for the whole city. We’ve able to get very informed data.”

“In North America the thinking is that there are more captive folks who use public transit: you only use it if you don’t have any other option. Whereas I think what Europe and Asia have been successful in – they’ve got people to think about transit a lot more, and it becomes much more of a choice.”

“Being public transit, we have to make sure that we don’t leave other people behind because public transit has to be very equitable. It’s important to have other means. So whether it’s having kiosks that are set up at certain bus stops, where you can hail the bus, where the people can flag the bus down and board the bus ad hoc-ly, where the people can call in. So as long as you can have different means because yes, a majority of people use smartphones, but not everyone has access to that.”

Transcript

Brooke Struck: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the podcast of The Decision Lab, a socially conscious applied research firm that uses behavioral science to improve outcomes for all of society. My name is Brooke Struck, Research Director at TDL and I’ll be your host for the discussion. My guest today is Remi Desa, CEO of Pantonium. And in today’s episode, we’ll be talking about getting around, public transit systems, new technology, and hybrid approaches to transit. Remi, thanks for joining us.

Remi Desa: Thank you, Brooke.

Brooke Struck: Before we launch, so to speak, please tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re up to these days and maybe a bit about Pantonium as well.

Remi Desa: Yeah, well, thanks so much for having me and giving me the opportunity to be on the show. So by background, I’m an engineer, but been more in the business space for some time, focus more in logistics and operations. Prior to working with Pantonium, was part of a company where we were doing route optimization for first and last mile delivery for companies like Frito-Lay, Home Depot, and sort of the learnings that we got through that business really wanted to take it and apply it into moving people. Moving people is a very interesting space quite different than goods, because someone can’t be in a vehicle for a very long time, even if it is a very efficient way of doing things. So that was sort of the impetus to start Pantonium.

And at Pantonium really, our goal is to improve public transit. We believe public transit is the core of mobility for cities, and to make them more successful, public transit has to become more relevant in the way people get around. And that’s really what we do is we’re trying to help cities and prove that through their bus transportation and making that run in an on demand model, where we’re going, where people want to go and helping the buses run more efficiently based on that.

Brooke Struck: Yeah, that’s great. Let’s dive into the meat of that, trying to improve the efficiency of the system and also the quality of the user experience. So let’s start with where most cities are. Excuse me. Almost every public transit system around the world runs buses on set routes and set schedules. What kinds of inefficiencies does this create?

Remi Desa: Yes, if fixed routes are a really good and very efficient way of moving people, especially when you’re in very dense areas. I think if you look at the spectrum, you have two sides. So you have fixed routes, which can be very efficient but sometimes not as user friendly for the riders, it’s a bit inconvenient to use fixed route service, because you have to go and follow where the vehicles are going and the schedules. And then on the extreme other side, you have taxi service, and taxi service is very, very convenient but it’s also quite costly. And so when you look at the flip side, fixed route is very efficient, it’s cheap taxi service is quite costly. The challenge is, fixed route service works very well, when you have dense areas where you have predictability.

But when you’re getting to areas where it’s less dense, and there’s less predictability, fixed routes, sometimes become quite challenging, because without knowing where people want to go, we’re just guessing where we should send the bus. And that bus is going there, regardless if someone’s at that stop or not. And that’s really we see an opportunity of sort of on demand really helping working in conjunction with fixed routes to address this sort of gap that there is in cities where you have these times where demand can be irregular, also areas where density is not as dense, which is common in most cities across the world.

Brooke Struck: Okay, let’s unpack a little bit of how it is that we came to have the systems that we have. So let’s talk about this from two perspectives. The first is the transit authorities perspective about how it is that they decided on the routes and the schedules in the first place based on the technology that they had available to them at the time? And also, what did that feel like as a user of that system?

Remi Desa: Yeah, so bus transit hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years. And the way it’s generally designed is, cities they get a budget and so you have budgets and you have a certain number of assets, and now you have to plan where you locate these assets across the city. Traditionally, the way that’s done is the transit authorities would work with consulting companies and runs surveys of where they think people need to go. So those surveys generally work very well in getting people to the core of the city. So if you look at most transit systems, they’re generally star shape systems where you have a central depot and you have these routes, which are sort of petals around and coming into the center of the city.

And again, those systems work well if you’re going into the center of the city. But nowadays, most movements is actually across from the city. So what happens is people have to transfer two or three times if they need to get across for the city, and it becomes quite inconvenient. 

Brooke Struck: That’s good. So let me fill in the gap there around like the user experience side. So the surveys are conducted, we got information about where people are living and where it is that they want to be going. And as long as I’m the kind of typical rush hour commuter, I’m going from my bedroom community to go and work downtown in the morning. And then in the afternoon, I turned around, and I want to go back from downtown to my home and some bedroom community. As long as I’m doing that, we’re all good. But as soon as I want to be doing something that’s against the grain or across the grain, like there’s not going to be much bus service for me. So for instance, if I want to go from one area outside the core to another area outside the core, even if that’s just kind of like my next door neighborhood, the chances are, I’m probably going to have to go all the way downtown to come all the way back up.

Remi Desa: That’s right. So we used that kind of information capture and that kind of thinking to design fixed root systems before. That was based on kind of the best technology that was available at the time, like 50 years ago, it wasn’t really feasible to collect more granular information than that, or to get a finer resolution picture of where it is that people are and where it is they want to go. How has that changed now?

Remi Desa: So nowadays, communication is so cheap, I can have access to information about demand where people are going, pretty much everyone is walking around with almost a supercomputer in their pocket. And so with this added communication, this added information, we can help make much better decisions in real time.

We’re not saying that every bus has to only run in a dynamic model. In every city, there are portions of fixed routes, which are very productive, but there are portions of fixed routes which are unproductive. And the way cities were designed before is because you didn’t have this option to be able to get this real time information, A lot of times, you would have these unproductive portions of fixed routes, combining with productive portions. So what we’re seeing right now is because we can access this data in real time, we can help cities make better decisions and that’s really what our technology is doing.

Brooke Struck: So what does the total rethink of the system look like now kind of powered by the new technology that we have available to us that just kind of wasn’t around when systems were initially being designed?

Remi Desa: So we think every city is going to move at some point to as this hybrid type model, where you keep the portion of your fixed routes, which are productive and efficient. But the other, more costly, because in public transit, providing coverages can be very costly. So those more coverage type of areas are run in an on-demand model. And sort of they work together in concert. And that’s really where we see the future is this sort of blend of hybrid of fixed routes and on demand, working together.

You’d mentioned that these kinds of hybrid services are really well set up for cities that were initially designed around kind of a central core and bedroom communities and suburbs. Is there a kind of cultural and geographic dimension to this as well? Is this a problem that North America is struggling with more, because its cities were primarily built during the last century, let’s say, as opposed to older European cities or Asian cities that just have a very different culture and history to them, in terms of the way that they’re designed and the way that they’re used? Do you see different patterns across those areas?

Remi Desa: Yeah, definitely, I think North America has really been pushed on the car type of… So if you look at all the cities, they all spread out a lot more because people can drive and we’re also fortunate we have a lot of space in North America. But I think in Asia and Europe, because of your constraints and space, they sort of have to think about things a bit differently. And there’s also more emphasis. I think in North America the sort of thinking, is there more captive type of folks who use public transit, you only use it if you don’t have any other option. Whereas I think what Europe and Asia they’ve been successful is, they’ve got people to think about transit a lot more, and it becomes much more of a choice.

You can drive if you want, but why would you when you have such convenient other options to use public transit, that is much cheaper and less costly, and good for the environment? So I think North America, we have a ways to go to get to a place where it’s more acceptable to use public transit. But I think a big part of that is how it’s been designed because of sort of that car culture, and that spending on that car culture and not so much focusing on using in a more communal type of way of people getting around.

Brooke Struck: So it sounds like that’s another kind of barrier to getting change underway is you’re not just talking about the organizational change of a system. You’re talking about a cultural change are on the mentality towards transit as well.

Remi Desa: Definitely, definitely. Especially in North America, less so in Canada than in the US. But yeah, a lot of people don’t use transit because they feel like they don’t have to.

Brooke Struck: Yeah, that’s right. And I wonder whether part of what you’re proposing is actually a solution to that cultural problem as well. That like when you feel that the system is more adaptive to your needs, it feels like a higher value service. Personalization always makes the perceived value higher. And so maybe this personalization through a hybrid system where I am kind of hailing a bus for want of a better phrase, where I’m kind of hailing the bus because I need it. And this is where I want to go. The system is made for me, rather than kind of being beholden to the system. Maybe that’s some small steps in the direction of working, like rolling back that kind of cultural attitude towards transit as well.

Okay, talk to me about the user experience of on demand busing. I have something in my mind of like, I want a taxi and a bus shows up, walk me through what that feels like.

Remi Desa: Yeah, so I mean, there’s some similarities, you use an app, you could say I’m going from this bus stop to another bus stop. And as the buses come in, you’re told when the buses coming so you can plan ahead. Unlike traditionally the way bus service works is you have to plan based on the bus service. Now, you actually tell when your schedule is, when I need to be at this place by a certain time, I’m going between these two bus stops. And the technology does the planning for you. So it ensures that you’re there when you need to get to the place you need to get there for. So similar type of experience to what you might expect in a ride hailing type of environment.

But being public transit also, we have to make sure that we don’t leave other people behind because public transit has to be very equitable. It’s important to have other means. So whether it’s having kiosks that are set up at certain bus stops, where you can hail the bus, where the people can flag the bus down and board the bus ad hoc-ly, where the people can call in. So as long as you can have different means because yes, a majority of people use smartphones, but not everyone has access to that. And for public transit, it’s important to be able to manage that. 

But what then the system does is it understands where people want to go, it understands the capacity and all the vehicles where each of the vehicles are going, what time they need to get to which location by. And it’s constantly calculating all the different permutations and what’s the best way to service this demand with the existing fleet. And then that’s the nature of how it works, and then we guide the buses between bus stops, one bus stop at a time to pick people up and drop them off.

Brooke Struck: Yeah, so if I understand correctly from the user’s perspective, I mean, now with a completely non-hybrid approach, I can hop onto Google Maps and say like, “I am here, I want to be there by this hour of the day.” And Google Maps will calculate for me which buses I need to take in order to reach that destination by that time. But one of the fundamental assumptions going into that is that the bus routes and the schedules are fixed, like nothing is up for grabs, in terms of how the buses are moving. I’m the only variable in play. Sounds like what you’re describing is quite a bit more complex than that, like, rather than only the riders being the variables, the buses are variables now too.

Remi Desa: Yeah, no, definitely, I think when you look at sort of the way Google Maps and all of these operates, it is assuming that the bus routes are working the way they are and what we’re seeing is, well, maybe they’ll work the way they are. But there’s also the opportunity that we can find a more effective way that can help cities save money run more efficiently, get people better coverage, get to places faster. And those are all considerations need to be taken to consideration when we want to improve the way public transit works.

Brooke Struck: Right. So it gives me as a rider a lot more flexibility to identify, like where it is that I want to be going and to kind of minimize those inefficiencies in my rider experience. So for instance, finding ways to help me avoid needing to go all the way into the city center only to come all the way back out to go to the neighboring community. From the public transit authority side, what kind of efficiency gains do you see with this kind of approach?

Remi Desa: Yeah, so just going back to your point before I jump into the public transit, one of the biggest things is transfers. And for people to use public transit, the more transfers you have to take, the less chance it is that you’re going to use public transit. One of the keys of what we tried to do is we tried to create these large service areas, so that people can go anywhere in the service area on one bus without having to transfer. And we found that really helped increase the amount of people who want to use public transit because of that convenience factor. For the transit agencies, again, it also helps them be a lot more efficient. So you can cover much more stops with fewer vehicles.

So to give you an example: the city of Stratford, Ontario, which is one of our COVID partners who we work with. When we started working with them, they had a weekend service and to cover all the stops in the city, they would use six to eight buses. And when you think about for cities, the cost to operate a bus is generally about $100 per hour, that’s including labor, it’s including maintenance. It’s quite expensive. We were able to show that we could cover all of those stops with two to four vehicles. So significantly different. So Stratford in a year they were saving over $300,000 just on the weekend routes. But that’s for the agency side, but also for the riders now, sometimes you have routes which have an hour headway. So if you miss the bus, you’re waiting an hour for that bus. And if you happen to transfer, need to transfer that could be quite a bit longer just to get to where you need to go, which might be a 20 minute drive.

So what we’ve seen is this ability to have these large service areas and these buses moving between bus stops, so people don’t have to transfer. It’s really cut down that amount of time that they need to spend on the vehicle and get much more direct type of service.

Brooke Struck: Let’s stick there for a moment about the drivers, no pun intended, of what gets people actually choosing to take a bus or not. So you mentioned the number of transfers is a really strong determinant. I imagine that the length of weight is probably also a strong determinant, but talk us through this, like what are the factors that will really influence the decision for someone to either take a bus or not?

Remi Desa: I think you have to look at it like yourself, and you value your time. And I think for anyone to take a bus, time is very important. Traditionally public transit it’s, you have two groups of riders, you have riders who are choice riders who can have the option to take public transit, but they they can choose other ways and then you have captive riders. For both groups of riders, the most important is how long you have to spend on the bus, how much time are you waiting for the bus? How long are you spending to get to your destination? Those are the main parts and transfers are part of that. So if I have to spend two hours on the bus, and I have to transfer one or two times, I’m really only going to take the bus if I have no other options.

For us, we think that’s to get more people to use public transit, we have to give them more options so it doesn’t feel like it’s the last resort that they have to use. And that’s that’s very important in sort of, so when we look at that model of having these large service areas, so people can get around with no transfers. That’s a key driver that we believe helps increase people using public transit.

Brooke Struck: So it sounds like you’re using technology to dramatically increase the efficiency for cities, and to dramatically improve the experience for riders. It’s a no brainer, right? Of course, everybody should be doing this. But clearly some ingredients must be missing there because cities around the world are not already doing this, have not already been doing it for a few years. What are some of the barriers to change?

Remi Desa: Yeah, I think cities, especially in transit, cities are generally fairly risk averse. They do what they know, and what they understand. So most people in transit, they have an understanding of when they think of on demand, they think of it in terms of specialized transit or paratransit type service, which is good for them. It’s quite expensive.

So if you think about conventional transit, compared to specialized transit, conventional transit is about 1/10 the cost per ride compared to specialized transit. But it’s getting people to think outside of what they know, and outside of the box, and as you know Brooke, that’s one of the hardest things is we believe we’ve shown that successes and how that’s working and we believe in time, this is going to be the way that transit operates. But it takes time to get there and yeah, cities are moving, they’re moving slowly but they’re not the fastest movers.

Brooke Struck: Yeah. Has the pandemic changed any of that? I mean, obviously, so much around transit has just been flipped on its head. The percent of ridership is way down, or the share of ridership is way down on many transit networks. But it’s not just about volume, it’s also about patterns. We were talking earlier about that kind of classic pattern of the suburbanites commuting into the city center to do their work and then commuting back out in the evening. But like, it’s not just in terms of volume that the pandemic has changed the transit network use, it’s also that that pattern in particular, is the most disruptive of all the patterns now with so many people working from home. Is there a change that you’re seeing within the transit networks around the world that you’re working with? And is this creating opportunities that like, well, if changes in the air anyway, if the option of just continuing with the status quo isn’t viable, well, now we might as well make a good decision to go with something new that shows promise.

Remi Desa: Yeah, no, definitely. I mean, the pandemic has been tough for transit agencies. I think some of these patents which you’re talking about are probably going to stick around for some time. So a lot of people I speak to they thinking of going back to the office, but now they may not be going back every day. I think this is going to introduce a lot more irregularity in the way people are moving around. And that’s where systems that are able to calculate in real time can really be helpful, because when demand is unpredictable, that’s where these types of real time systems can be very helpful. So we definitely see lots of opportunities ahead, because of that, and sort of this new way of thinking. Yeah, we’re starting to see some movement. We’re starting to see that cities are starting to look at different modes, and not just what they knew before. So looks like there’s lots of opportunities coming up and we’re excited about that.

Brooke Struck: Yeah, that’s great. So I want to talk about the size of cities now and how this relates to kind of different options and the way to set up a transit network. So in some previous work, you’ve noted that the bigger the city is, typically the bigger the bureaucracy is, and the bigger the resistance to change, the more kind of averse they are to risk in this kind of thing. But you also mentioned earlier in our discussion today, that’s obviously, density is a huge factor in determining the efficiency of transit systems. So I want to imagine two, completely, kind of polar opposites here, polar opposite cities, what is a tiny little city that’s run by five people who sit down over a coffee once a week to make decisions. And whatever kind of transit they’re trying to run is just going to be horribly inefficient on a fixed route, fixed schedule system.

And at the other end, you’ve got this massive city that occupies kind of a tiny point of space, and you’ve just got millions and millions of people stacked on top of each other. So working with fixed routes is extremely efficient, because you’ve just got lots of people there. So buses are always running full, but you’ve also got this massive bureaucracy that’s totally choking, and will never change. But the reality is, of course, real cities always fall somewhere in the continuum between those two.

What are some of the patterns that you’ve seen, or some of the kind of shoulders in that distribution that you’ve seen of cities with certain dynamics, where you say, “It’s actually really good to run more or less just a dynamic system for cities that look like X. And it’s good to have a hybrid system for cities that look like Y, and in cities that look like Z, actually, it’s just not even really worth it to go to a hybrid system because of the size and density and this kind of thing.”

Remi Desa: Yeah, so it all comes down to as you said, the density and the city. So very small cities that have not many main corridors and people are spread out quite a bit. Yeah, a dynamic system is really the only way that you can run it in somewhat of an efficient manner. It’s still  costly providing service in those types of areas, but a dynamic system can be very helpful. As you start moving to cities, which are I’d say around 50,000 plus, where you do have sort of a center of town and you have some main corridors and main areas where people are going to… In our view that’s where you need to have a hybrid system. It makes sense to have dynamic at times of the day where you’re not around the peak of where people are moving. But it makes sense to have keep some of the efficient season efficient, fixed routes based on the patterns of where people are going.

For large cities, they’re still, large cities have density and lots of people going around. And it makes sense to have fixed routes, they’re the best and most efficient way to move people. But where on demand can help a lot is in those cities that, as we talked about before, they were designed for commuters. So all the patents of where transit goes it is for commuters.

But if you happen to be traveling against those commuter routes, it can be quite cumbersome to get around. And that’s where on demand can be very helpful, as sort of this cross grain type of travel. And also then at times of day where demand is really irregular, especially in large cities, where late night service where people are going to different places, the patterns are not so consistent. That’s where it can be very helpful. And then in other areas, when you have new cities, even though they really big, have certain areas where it’s less dense, and it may make sense to provide coverage in a more dynamic type of model. So yeah, definitely, it’s not one size fits all, it’s being able to look at the city, look at the patterns, look at ridership, look at the size. And using those factors then to come up with what makes sense.

Brooke Struck: Right, that’s really interesting. So I had been thinking about it just in terms of kind of city profile, saying like, “Okay, well, if a city looks like this, then you’d want a hybrid system or more kind of a richer mix of fixed schedules and fixed routes”. But the temporal aspect is one that I hadn’t been thinking about that like even a big city that’s very dense and has very consistent patterns, doesn’t have them equally at all times a day. At the rush hour is when it’s going to be at its most intense. But even a city that relies very, very strongly on fixed routes and fixed schedules during a rush hour, outside of those periods might be really advantaged to have a more dynamic system.

Remi Desa: No, exactly, because most cities when they do their planning, they plan for peak times. Because you have to be able to address that peak time or else the system doesn’t work. But as you saying, at different times of the day, with those changes, it can be a completely different system that you have to you have to use. And if you want to run efficiently and give people good service, you have to be open to looking at those options as well.

Brooke Struck: It’s interesting, it makes me think of how we plan electricity grids as well, that like really we plan so much of our infrastructure around peak load.

Remi Desa: That’s right.

Brooke Struck: Or if we’re taking a bit more risk than we plan for like something just below peak load, and we just kind of cross our fingers that when peak load happens, it’s not going to really cause a crisis.

Remi Desa: Yeah, no, exactly. It’s the same for transit.

Brooke Struck: So one of the things you mentioned is that identifying opportunities for migrating to a hybrid system really starts with good information. So for cities that are interested in thinking about this, where can they start looking at information that can help them to make informed decisions about where to start, how to start, this kind of thing?

Remi Desa: Yeah, so I mean, information is key. Having good information is really important. The challenge sometimes with our existing transit systems is the information you have is quite limited. So if we think about cities, you might have counters of how many people are taking the buses on certain bus routes. And they have these automatic passenger counters which are on the bus, which tell you when someone gets on and gets off. And that gives us a ridership for route, but it’s rare that you have the true origin and destination pairs of where people are actually going.

So an example of that is you might have a bus route that is very busy, but the reason that bus route is really busy is because it’s the only Walmart in the city is on that bus route. And a lot of people go to Walmart, so everyone is transferring to that bus route to get to Walmart.

But who’s to say if you give people options to get to that bus route from other ways, if they would be different paths that they would take. And so the challenge is always getting that data that origin destination pairs which can help you with that informed decision. So for us when we try to work with a city, one of the things we tried to do is work at times of day where demand is quite irregular or less, so we can kind of cover the whole city. So weekends, evenings, so we can see where that demand pattern is. But that then allows us to really capture true origin destination pair, so we can help cities map out where it might make sense to have fixed routes and not. But in very large cities, you’re not going to get that opportunity. So I think it’s more of an iterative approach is, these areas that’s less busy, let’s start in this area and see what we learn and apply that and go from there.

Brooke Struck: Is there a danger and starting with those kinds of, like off peak times and kind of off peak areas or kind of less dense areas within the city, that you’re learning a lesson that then doesn’t apply to kind of like the main event, so to speak of like, you learn about all these patterns that are not representative of the busier times and in the busier spaces?

Remi Desa: Yeah, definitely. I mean, but usually, what you’re learning is to try and understand what the possibilities are, it’s not so, we don’t normally just say, okay, let’s see the off peak patterns, and then we apply those new routes to the peak times. But I think the key is helping the cities understand the value of the data, and what they can learn from that. And I think that is does very important in these sort of steps that we take. So in some cities, where we’re able to run the entire day of during peak times and off peak times for the whole city, we’ve able to get very informed data.

But the way we approach this problem sometimes is, going back to cities risk averseness, us being able to show this in the off peak times where we can show this entire area and say, “Okay, this is what you can learn here. It might make sense for you to develop fixed routes over here, and the rest runs on demand.” Having that data to be able to make those decisions is key. And being able to show that value of that data is very important. So that’s how we operate.

Brooke Struck: Okay, so for someone working within a transit authority, who’s listening to this today and saying, “Oh, my gosh, this is the solution that I’ve been trying to move forward in my organization for a decade, and it’s just not getting on track.” What is a good step that they can take to start getting those conversations going about a more data informed approach and moving towards more hybrid approaches to transit?

Remi Desa: I mean, I think it’s, if you were to ask me this two years ago, the answer would be quite different. I think now, there’s a lot more information of what’s what’s happening, what’s… I think educating people a bit more about this learning more, learning about the different models, because, again, also on demand is a word that can be used quite loosely. There’s lots of different on demand models. There are ones which are just first and last mile, they’re ones which are sort of looking at the entire city. There are lots of different models and how they’re looking at it. And I would say, just spending some time looking at the outcomes, looking at the results, because they are lots of pilots now which have been taken place and different results. And then talking to people like us who have some experience and sharing our stories of what we’ve learned and going from there.

But I would say, usually the best times to look at these types of opportunities when you have the low density, so off-peak times, weekend’s evenings are good times to try and test out the service, because usually, that’s the most unproductive time for cities and where it’s quite costly to provide service. So in those areas where doing something, this is not something completely new that’s not been done before. It’s been done a number of times now, trying it out, learning from that and seeing what your learnings are to how we can make improvements.

Brooke Struck: What about for citizens, for transit riders, if they’re listening to this saying, like, “Oh, my gosh, I just need something like this so badly for my city. My city is choked in traffic because everybody sits in a car by themselves rather than getting on a bus and the reason they’re all getting on buses is because they’re just not going to the right places at the right times.” What’s an effective way to start to mobilize a little bit of energy to get change underway?

Remi Desa: I think reaching out to your transit authority, reaching out to your counselors, I think that’s at the end of the day, public transit has a political aspect to it and I think if people want to drive change. We have the ability to do it, we just need to reach out, and get people to start looking at different models and not just accepting that what we have is working great. There’s a reason why I think people don’t use public transit as much as they could. Getting buses electric, I think are really good initiatives. But we have to understand why people are not using bus service or public transit. And if we can address that, and we can make it more convenient and more people want to use it, then I think we can put policies around public transit, but without that, it’s difficult to force people to do things when you don’t give them a better alternative.

That’s our belief. Yeah, I believe giving people that power to feel that, the schedule is built around where I need to go, me being able to get to a certain place by this time. That’s our belief that’s going to help more people want to use it. But on the other side, it also has to be an effective service, right? If I feel I have that control, but it’s still going to take me an hour, two hours when I can drive in 15 minutes…

Brooke Struck: It’s a hard sell.

Remi Desa: It’s a hard sell. Exactly, exactly. So those are the things I think which are really important is really making sure that we can cut down the amount of wait time, the amount of ride times getting people more directly where they need to go. And I think if you do that well, people will come to use transit. Because I think most people you talk to they see the immense value of public transit, but their challenge is always their time.

Brooke Struck: Yeah. All right. Well, Remi, thank you very much for this conversation. That’s been great.

Remi Desa: Thank you very much, Brooke, for giving me the opportunity and having me on the show.

Brooke Struck: Absolutely. And hope to chat with you soon.

Remi Desa: All right. Take care.

 

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About the Guest

Remi Desa

Remi is the CEO and co-founder of Pantonium, a company focused on improving urban mobility through efficient on-demand mass transit. A technology entrepreneur, Remi was born in Canada and raised in Kenya, he returned to Canada to study electrical engineering and management science at University of Waterloo. Remi’s focus on improving public transit stems from his own life experience which has shown him how integral quality transportation is to leading a productive and satisfying life. He has a passion for finding efficiencies and has over 15 years of experience working in operations and logistics.

About the Interviewer

Brooke Struck

Dr. Brooke Struck is the Research Director at The Decision Lab. He is an internationally recognized voice in applied behavioural science, representing TDL’s work in outlets such as Forbes, Vox, Huffington Post and Bloomberg, as well as Canadian venues such as the Globe & Mail, CBC and Global Media. Dr. Struck hosts TDL’s podcast “The Decision Corner” and speaks regularly to practicing professionals in industries from finance to health & wellbeing to tech & AI. In his consulting work, Dr. Struck works with transformative leaders, helping them to diagnose and address their most pressing challenges. His approach brings together a rich interdisciplinary background, strong relationship-building and an unwavering focus on positive impact. Before joining TDL, Dr. Struck consulted in evidence-based policy and data-driven decisions, advising clients such as the European Commission, the US National Science Foundation, and the Government of Canada. He holds a PhD in the philosophy of science. You can contact Dr. Struck at brooke@thedecisionlab.com.

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