In rural areas, public transport services are sparse. In order to meet transport needs more efficiently, a combination of private vehicle and public transport is needed.
The goal is to enhance the existing transport supply and to find innovative solutions for services to rural areas or low-density areas with optimal mobility for all and sustainable development at lower cost.
The project focused on the rural area around Abbeville in the Picardy region of northern France, where there has been a relative lack of public transport.
The project goal was to establish, for the rural areas around Abbeville, a structure of multimodal and intermodal services combining different components of mobility in a unitary system: public, private, collective, individual, organised and improvised mobility.
The system relies on the FILINFO information centre of the public transport operator Kéolis (one of the project partners and funders).
The aim is to provide a solution to the isolation of captive (low mobility) people (young, elderly, disabled, low income households) in the Abbeville area by experimenting and testing a new mobility service. This system relied on the existence of a major mobility and public transport actor (Kéolis) in order to provide additional supply to urban and interurban public transport.
The project included the following tasks:
- Study of the mobility needs
- Proposition of a system operation
- Feasibility study
1) Study of mobility needs.
The first task consisted of evaluating the mobility needs of the area. It consisted of studying the demographic context, the mobility flows (trip-to-work, trip-to-school, other journeys), and elaborating a quantitative and qualitative study of potential clientele.
To estimate the number of individuals potentially interested in a new mobility service, the number of employed persons who work outside the town was identified for each household, which gave an estimation of the number of vehicles who left home each morning and were therefore not available for the rest of the household during the day.
40% of inactive people (such as senior citizens) have either no vehicle in the household, or someone in the household has a vehicle but which is not available during the daytime (e.g. the other person takes the car to work). In total - including young people, inactive and elderly who have no car available during the day - more than 8,500 individuals (19% of the rural population outside Abbeville) could potentially be interested in a mobility service in the study area (excluding Abbeville town itself). As for the qualitative study, interviews with institutional stakeholders were held to determinate the actions to undertake, the marketing campaign to adopt, etc. To test the concept of the new transport service "SARRASIN" two focus groups comprising all persons residing in the geographical area were organised within 15 to 30 km from Abbeville.
The ideal service for the proposed geographical area must meet the following requirements:
- continuous (every day and every moment)
- responsiveness (acceptance of contingencies)
- accessibility and flexible
- close to public services and buildings (e.g. town halls, medical facilities, etc)
- vehicles adaptable to users and applications (number of places, the importance of safety).
2) Proposition of a system operation.
The service consists of:
- An operator (the "mobility centre" – mobility management service)
- A network of stations (platforms)
- Points (pickup and deposit) outside stations
- Infrastructure (communication system and information)
The feasibility study confirmed the difficulties faced by individuals without car access, both during the interviews and also with various local social actors. So there were strong needs for diverse types of uses and users such as young adolescents, the elderly, housewives, jobseekers, users of leisure centres, health centres, etc. However, there remain uncertainties about the volume of trips it can represent. Therefore a service that could respond to the most diverse options (individual, group travel, third-party payer, tourists, disabled ...) and that was as flexible as possible was created.
The legal feasibility was probably what caused the most problems: the need for a consistent service in which vehicles were used, as required by the trip needs, in very different contexts (led by the user, volunteer use and a professional driver if necessary) seemed at odds with the French legal framework for transport which is highly fragmented and highly regulated. The chosen legal structure was an association, which allowed more flexibility with regard to the legal framework which corresponded to other dimensions of solidarity and togetherness necessary for the service to work well.
Some uncertainties still remained about the labour law and volunteer support. Regarding the establishment of such a service field, the study could show the importance of strong involvement of local players still to be mobilised, firstly for the financing, so that the cost to different users was consistent with their economic constraints, but also, secondly, to act as a relay to the people concerned.
The management system provided by Renault fleet consisted of a server (or multiple servers for reasons of availability) that could support multiple fleet management operators based on service contracts signed with Renault. Each registered company would have one or more client stations enabling secure access to the service through the Internet. This server fleet management may include all features required or that may be distributed on various servers, some of which may be provided by partners (e.g. WEBRASKA for geo-locating the fleet on a map provided by standard NAVTECH).
The WiFi terminals would be used for the exchange of information (high-speed, low cost) between vehicles and the fleet management server when the vehicles are parked on the SARRASIN platforms. The terminals could also be used to receive information on service, book a car or buy intangible products downloaded to the vehicle (video game, MP3, multimedia tour guide, etc). Seven public terminals were planned under the project.
On-board telematics system in the vehicle would allow real-time communication between the vehicle and the system for fleet management. This communication is provided via two channels of communication, GPRS and WiFi. It would include the remote opening / closing doors, unlocking / locking system lock and seizure of information use and wear on the vehicle CAN bus (mode passive observation only).
The system was an innovative mobility service based on a fleet of vehicles managed remotely through a centralised mobility centre (FILINFO), users may travel with other users. Legally, the service resembled a short term car rental, a carpool service (both private activities), and a transport demand service. The law on inland transport (LOTI) of 30th December 1982 (loi no 82-1153), distinguishes public transport and private transport. According to Article 5: "public transportation is to be considered all transport of persons or goods, except transport organised by their own account of public or private persons."
The urban transport area of Abbeville (Abbeville PTU) is under the jurisdiction of SITRA (Syndicat Intercommunal Transport Region of Abbeville). The extra-urban area is under the jurisdiction of the Somme "département" (Conseil Général - equivalent to a county council). The agreement of the transport authorities from both these entities should be required before the creation of any cross-boundary service. Unfortunately, contrary to what exists for school transport, the law does not state arbitration in the event of a dispute between public transport organising authorities. It was also possible for the Conseil Général de la Somme to delegate its powers to SITRA regarding organisation of transport in the area. It seems that the elected councillors on the SITRA board were very interested in the SARRASIN service.
One solution was to separate the service into two components: a private rental and carpooling service and a public transport demand service.
One way around these difficulties of joint activities between private and public would consolidate the service within the same legal structure: an association. The associative structure seemed, on the one hand particularly well adapted to the dimension of solidarity and togetherness among users, who shared rides, and seemed on the other hand, to greatly simplify the relationships between different actors.
Two alternatives appeared:
- A mobility association
- A hybrid corporation-users association.
The first alternative was best suited to the needs of the experiment: having a single structure bringing together everyone on the one hand simplified the implementation of the project (one structure to create a single business plan) and probably facilitated the trial and the closeness and shared responsibilities of different actors (all actors around the same table).