Sustainable Public Transport: Providing Responsive, On-Demand Service with Clean Energy

Research output: NRELPresentation


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) uses the Mobility Energy Productivity (MEP) as a metric and a lens to guide applied research into high performance public mobility. In the current initiative to abate global warming, the US needs not only zero-emission vehicles in the transit fleet (such as buses and shuttles) but also time- and cost-effective services to connect people with goods, services and employment toward a high-quality of life. Our current transportation system is overly dependent on personally-owned automobiles for high quality mobility, with public modes being less viable in many areas. Simply electrifying the drivetrains of existing public transit modes will fail to improve the quality of mobility for those that do not have access to private automobiles. The slow rebound by transit from the pandemic reveals the need to reinvent public transit service. Using the MEP lens, NREL researchers have tracked various novel developments in the public mobility space, with the confluence of shared, on-demand transit (ODT) services using light duty vehicles emerging as a key enabler of high-efficiency public mobility. Deployments such as those in Arlington, TX, Dallas, TX, Fort Erie, ON, and Innisfil, ON showcase the use of fleets of light-duty vehicles as the basis for community circulation and first/last mile to intra-regional transit. ODT services have demonstrated improvements in being more time efficient for riders, more energy efficient in operation (even before the introduction of fully electric vehicles), as well as being cost effective. It appears that aspects of the long-awaited promise of Personal Rapid Transit from the 1970s are beginning to be realized through ODT deployments, leveraging transportation network company (TNC) logistics, popularized by Uber and Lyft, but applied to public mobility. Currently, manually driven ODT operations are already cost competitive with traditional transit systems on a cost per ride basis, and full automation promises to reduce costs by 50% while providing additional safety and verified customer service. Connecting these ODT systems with efficient and effective intra-regional backbone transit service is the next step, with transit agencies like DART providing early results. This discussion will walk through the evidence for this postulated outcome and show results from a series of case-studies.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages28
StatePublished - 2024

Publication series

NamePresented at the ASCE International Conference on Transportation and Development, 15-18 June 2024, Atlanta, Georgia

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5400-90059


  • automated transit
  • automated vehicles
  • micro-transit
  • on-demand mobility


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