Compared to conventional regular public transport services the innovative and flexible transport systems are able to offer a more cost-effective supply and, moreover, to provide increased mobility for rural dwellers. In this context, innovative and flexible transport services are: demand responsive, voluntary, intermodal and multipurpose services.
In all the investigated countries (European Union and the Eastern Accession Countries) common obstacles, could be analysed: in fact, the distinguishing disperse settlement structure and low population densities as well as comparably high rate of car ownership all lead to a low demand for public transport services. Furthermore the issue of public transport in rural areas does not play an important role in public transport policies of most countries.
The ARTS project aims to provide a practical approach to the planning, operation and evaluation of Integrated Transport Systems in low-density rural areas.
The overall objective of ARTS is to test and demonstrate the most effective ways of providing rural transport services and, consequently, produce a set of recommendations: a sort of guidelines for the planning and implementation of rural transport systems.
The project will evolve through 3 specific phases:
- Identification of barriers of the individual countries at national, regional and local level;
- Focus on the preparation and development of the demonstrations: eight public transport schemes in low density rural areas will be tested and evaluated in eight different European countries;
- Evaluation of demonstration results from the effectiveness perspective.
The demonstrations have been selected based on their feasibility. The demonstrations will be conducted in order to ensure that the process may be replicated in future and that transferable elements of the demonstrations may be identified.
During the demonstration process, evaluation will be conducted to identify the expected, estimated and actual impact of the measures implemented. Cross-site analysis will be a critical activity in order to compare results and to test its transferability to other experiences.
The main findings can be summarised as a classification of barriers that hinder the development and the integration of the transport services in rural areas.
In most countries the majority of funds only subsidise regular services. Special funds for public transport services in rural areas are very unusual and is often very difficult to finance new and innovative transport services, because common funds only cover the scope of regular (bus) services. In the Eastern Accession Countries, this is not the result of a lack of awareness of the problem but mainly from a lack of financial recourses. Moreover, the time limits on public funding is another common problem because funds are often limited to a short time period only covering the start-up phase of a new service. Demonstration projects are in danger of expiring once the time limit expires and, additionally, short contract periods or licences time restrictions hinder long-term operations. At local level, lack of information and knowledge about financing and possible funding/subsidies is a major obstacle. Most of the funding is scattered over different governmental levels and different administrative responsibilities. Hence, for municipalities and regional authorities it is very important to be fully aware of possible funding/subsidies and to act as co-ordinators. In conclusion, the implementation of new services is often hindered by the lack of funds/subsidies for innovative transport services. It remains questionable whether short term funding is capable of establishing new innovative services that outlast their demonstration status. On-demand and voluntary services in particular are affected by lack of funds since the introduction of these services is relatively expensive (e.g. for a travel dispatch centre) and strongly dependent on public funding.
LEGAL OR REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
In most of the participating countries, national legal and regulatory frameworks only take into account conventional public passenger transport whereas innovative transport services are rather neglected. In some cases the legal framework restricts or prohibits the integration of regular and special services or the combination of passenger and freight transport (multi-purpose transport services). This situation forces operators offering innovative services to operate in a legal grey or with 'special authorisation'. A further problem is that the market access
The Handbook summarises three recommendations types: technical, organisational and policy-related, providing linkage among strategies/measures and impacts/indicators.
In most of the participating countries, national legal and regulatory frameworks only take into account conventional public passenger transport whereas innovative transport services are rather neglected. In some cases the legal framework restricts or prohibits the integration of regular and special services or the combination of passenger and freight transport (multi-purpose transport services). This situation forces operators offering innovative services to operate in a legal grey or to operate with 'special authorisation'.
A further problem is, that the passenger transport market in many countries is hardly regulated and market access for new private operators is confined by strict rules of competition, traditional structures, and a divided market which does not favour new competitors. In many European countries the transport market is fragmented and dominated by the state or by state-controlled organisations close to monopolistic positions. Besides, the traditional public transport market is not attractive enough to draw large amounts of private capital and bring in many private operators.
Furthermore, the rural public transport as political issue does not play an important role at the national level. As a result of the missing awareness of this problem there is no political mood for innovative transport solutions, apart from the lack of knowledge about how to develop them. At least at regional and local level this issue have to feature on the political agenda. In this respect, best practice examples could help to disseminate information about innovative services more widely.