Some Cities Begin Testing On-Demand Public Transit

On-Demand Public Transit

Transit companies in many cities across the country are losing riders and revenue. The reasons are varied, but two factors come into play: first, they’re mostly operating the same way they did 50 years ago. That includes fixed routes, specific hourly schedules and limited service to areas outside of the core city.

The second factor is that many riders have switched to Uber and Lyft. Comparing current transit with Uber, for example, means either standing at a bus stop waiting for your ride, or flipping open a smartphone and ordering one to your door. The choice is simple, which is why ridership and revenues are down.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Uber and Lyft have had a huge impact on customer expectations.

Enter Microtransit

Embracing the Uber/Lyft model, and creating their own apps, cities are now offering on-demand public transit, known as microtransit. Some communities are offering their own service, while other municipalities are partnering with private companies to offer the service to riders.

Now all a customer has to do is push a button, and a transit van will pick them up. These vans are smaller than the usual large city buses;with some cities operating multi passenger conversion vans. These vehicles can take the customer to a destination they probably couldn’t reach with regular route systems, with some operating at times that conventional buses aren’t running. Some cities like Portland, for example, are including biking and walking options as part of their microtransit service.

For cities, studies have shown that it’s better to build on existing services instead of trying to create a brand-new system. It makes it easier to create on-demand, dynamic route technology for their customers.

Expanded Service Offerings

Microtransit offers more than just providing transit service to under-served areas of a metro area. Some cities are now offering on-demand Paratransit services disabled and elderly passengers, replacing the outdated scheduling system. And in Dayton, Ohio they’re considering changing their current Paratransit service, which requires advanced booking seven days in advance, to an on-demand service.

This will greatly help elderly and disabled riders who have unpredictable health-related issues. It offers immediate booking, which means the customer can make a same-day appointment with their healthcare professional – something they couldn’t do when advance reservations was required.

The Dayton RTAis also partnering with shared services to offer those residing in more rural parts of the county to connect with buses that are running more frequently. In some cases, like Orange County, California, the transit agencies are subsidizing the shared ride services, and other cities are considering doing the same.

Some cities are using simulators to test on-demand transit options. This includes routes, service hours, fares and other variables. Transit agencies can “test” many different options to see what is plausible and economical for their agency. These cities are also running trials with private companies to see what types of shuttle services make sense. And other cities are testing mobile apps to make payment easier, and cities like San Francisco and Chicago are going to add ‘near-field communication” so riders can simply wave their smartphones to board transit vehicles.

Major Economic Impact

In some places where public transit is often limited, like small cities and rural areas, microtransit could have a major economic impact for the area, and on quality of life for its residents. Having access to public transit options will boost economic development and potentially bring new residents into the area.

With all the amazing changes taking place with microtransit, there’s always going to be public transportation, like fixed bus routes, subways and even commuter trains. But in the future, they’ll be integrated with microtransit options providing convenient and affordable transportation for everyone.

Image credit: Justin S. Campbell | Flickr