Why do we care. Public transport is regarded as a powerful means to reduce climate change enhancing carbon emissions produced by individual transport. The shift of traffic load from individual to public transport is not implemented easily: individual car use appears as natural and its infrastructure is well-maintained and consequently expanded. In urban areas public transport services can be provided in an attractive and cost-covering way and, as a result, show higher occupancy rates and are well-integrated in personal travel behavior. Therefore, they contribute to reducing the transport-related carbon emissions as desired, and any further expansion grounds on fostering conditions.

Public transport in sparsely populated regions. In rural areas, the situation is quite different: The share of public transport is lower than in areas with higher population density. This might be explained by the fact that the provision of demand-satisfying public transport differs strongly according to spatial aspects. At present, in rural areas a classic public transport network cannot be provided in a demand-satisfying and cost-covering way. Users are confronted with low accessibility (last-mile problem) and low availability. Furthermore, less developed infrastructure for public transport, longer travel distances and the lack of private-car-related stress factors typical for urban areas (such as parking, costs, air pollution or congestion) are reported as central hindrances for the acceptance of public transport in such areas. Considering that in the EU, 29 % of citizens live in rural areas – a share that has been rising (Eurostat, 2018, 2020) – and that the provision of classic public transport in these areas is difficult and, more importantly, inefficient, the call for an exploration of possible solutions appears necessary.

Demand-responsive transport (DRT) services. This form of public transport is presented as a solution for rural areas, reacting to actual demand (booking in advance) and utilizing smaller vehicles. DRT is very flexible in the service design, which is why many different models exist, offering different routing and time schedule strategies., ranging from fixed routes and times to completely variable service access points and flexible pickup times.

What we contribute. To present, the possible contribution of DRT services to the reduction of carbon emissions is scarcely explored, and results are inconsistent. Nowadays, individual transport dominates the mobility of societies in Europe and North America, and DRT and public transport, in general, are required to persist and grow on a competitive market with private cars as the main rival. Therefore, it becomes essential to understand mobility demand and transport mode decisions of existing and potential users. This is of special necessity in countries where access to private vehicles is high: In Austria, only 14 % of the population live in a household without a private car. Next to operational and policy-related factors, the psychological element is crucial for users’ decisions on public transport modes.

In this part of the project MobiCar, we explore the (potential) users of DRT services in rural areas of Carinthia. First, a systematic literature review on DRT services sheds light on the current state of research, focusing on socio-scientific contributions. Second, based on the findings of the systematic literature review, a qualitative study is conducted in selected municipalities, exploring the needs and demands of (potential) users and examining the situation of transport providers and policymakers. DRT is explored related to the specific context in rural areas, thus, creating an in-depth understanding. Third, a quantitative study examines the factors that influence the decisions of the population in rural areas. Besides gathering descriptive information, the user acceptance is tested using the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology. In a stated-choice experiment, we explore the factors influencing the user acceptance that were identified in the qualitative pre-study. Thus, we gain deeper insight into the decision-making process of (potential) users.

Systematic literature review: The dilemma of demand-responsive transport services in rural areas: Conflicting expectations and weak user acceptance. The article has been published in the journal Transport Policy.