Toward sustainable rural mobility by simple and low-cost solutions

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2021)


New eco-system architectures: transitioning to a ‘green’ industry and embedding the automobile in societal and political contexts

Toward sustainable rural mobility by simple and low-cost solutions

Date, Y. and Mokudai, T.

Key words:
New business model, rural public transportation, rural mobility, depopulated area, mountainous area, on-demand transport, community bus service, transport disadvantage, accessibility index

Efforts to tackle transport disadvantages due to the limited availability of public transportation in rural areas tend to be inclined to such places with tourism resources. Depopulated mountainous areas without tourism attractions are often left neglected.
This study aims to propose a new business model for rural mobility to solve the transport disadvantages as well as sustain the residents’ quality of life in a mountainous area, where the depopulation has been (or will be) progressing, by taking into account the residents’ needs, lifestyle, locations of commercial and medical facilities, and the geographic conditions.

By reviewing the previous literature (e.g., Sasaki et al., 2013; Suzuki, 2012), we studied elements and criteria for building rural mobility services. We identified conditions such as geography, population distribution, and characteristics of the residents that are suitable for each mode of transportation by studying the existing cases of on-demand transport services and ride-sharing services using private cars. We then employed an accessibility index (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, 2014) to measure the ease of transport of the residents. We defined the accessibility index as the sum of the time taken to travel from home to destination and the expected waiting time for public transportation.
We selected the Takasu district of Itoshima City in Japan as a field of our study because of its decreasing population, mountainous landscape and lack of tourism resources. Out of 818 residents, 47.2 per cent are in their 60s or older in the district. Public transportation is only a community bus service. We conducted a questionnaire survey as well as interviews to comprehend the needs and perceptions of the residents. We also interviewed officers of the local government. Based on the interview and survey results, we examined potential improvements in the accessibility of the residents and the feasibility of our new business model of rural mobility service.

The result showed that the residents’ primary purpose of transport is for shopping and hospital visits. Many of them are dissatisfied with the current community bus service since the daytime schedule is very limited. The accessibility index for a 9 km trip from the residential area to a place where shops and hospitals locate was estimated to be 186 minutes.
Based on our empirical findings, we proposed a new business model for the local mobility service. The essences of the proposal are summarized as follows: provision of one bus per hour in the daytime for each of outbound and inbound direction; reservations by phone; installation of additional three bus stops at the foot of the mountain; usage of small buses or shared taxi, and fixed bus route.
1) Provision of one bus per hour in the daytime for each outbound and inbound direction from/to the residential area. Since the main purpose of residents' outings is shopping and hospital visits, they often travel during the daytime. On the other hand, as the current buses serve only twice during the daytime for each outbound and inbound direction, residents are highly dissatisfied with the lack of transportation service. In our business model, we schedule one outbound and inbound bus per hour.
2) Adoption of on-demand transport by telephone reservation. Currently, the community bus operates according to a fixed timetable regardless of the presence or absence of passengers. To ensure business feasibility, the on-demand vehicles should operate only when there are passengers. Also, since most of the residents are elderly and have a strong sense of resistance to digital devices, we employ a rather old-fashioned method: reservation by a telephone.
3) Installation of additional three bus stops at the foot of the mountain. The current bus stop is more than 500 meters away from the houses of about 25 per cent of the residents in the Takasu district. Since the residential area is located at the foot of the mountainous area, elderly residents claim the difficulties of walking to/from the bus stop. We propose three additional bus stops in the residential area in our transportation model.
4) Usage of small buses or shared taxi. The current bus has a capacity of 25 people. Because the number of passengers is small and the vehicles will have to go on narrow roads, we select mini buses or shared-taxi.
5) Fixed bus route. Since the service area is limited to the Takasu district and the small number of destinations within neighbouring areas, we chose the fixed route for the community bus service.
We calculated an expected improvement of our rural transport model. The accessibility index of 9 km from the residential areas to the places where the living infrastructure locates is shortened to be 92 minutes, i.e., 94 minutes improvement in travel time.

First, our study suggests that a great deal of the residents’ dissatisfaction can be solved by simple and low-cost solutions such as on-demand and fixed-route transport without the introduction of advanced technologies. The needs of the local government can be met by reducing subsidies to public transportation services. Our new mobility service will halve the travel time for shopping and hospital visits.
Second, we confirmed that the ease of use, e.g., human-machine interfaces, for the elderly is a critical success factor for the new mobility service. Although our proposed system adopts telephone to accept reservations, there are opportunities for digital technologies to significantly improve the efficiency of the reservation operations by introducing automated voice recognition as well as to optimise the scheduling the transport services through real-time passenger tracking devices and artificial intelligence.
Finally, solving the transport disadvantage in our studied area may lead to settlement and an increase in immigrants. In addition, our rural mobility service can be a new source of revenue for the local government after the new transport model reaches the break-even point.

 Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (2014) ‘kuseshibirithi shihyo no tebiki [A handbook of accessibility index]’, in Japanese. [online] (accessed 25 September 2020)
 Sasaki, K., Nigo, K., Yamamoto, M. and Yotsutsuji, H. (2013) ‘Teimitsudo kyojuu chiiki niokeru koutsu seiyakusha no idoushudan toshiteno raido shea no kanousei [The availability of ride-share as the travel mode for transportation-poor people in low density residential area]’, Journal of Shakai-gijutsu, 10, pp. 54–64, in Japanese.
 Suzuki, F. (2012) ‘Chihou niokeru ondemando koutsu no kanousei to kadai [Possibilities and challenges of on-demand transport in rural areas]’, Operations Research, 57(3), pp. 124–129, in Japanese.

(main text: 954 words)

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