Commuter Solutions

How On-Demand Shuttles Can Fill the Gaps in Mass Transit

A robust mass transit system can make a city greener, more energy efficient, and limit traffic congestion. However, in many cities, existing mass transit solutions are not convenient enough for people to abandon their own vehicles. Enter on-demand shuttles. These privately-owned shuttles combine the convenience of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) with the benefits of communal travel, and could be the way forward in addressing the holes in current mass transit systems.

For those with the resources to own one, the car remains the most convenient choice for commuting, as many public transportation systems are plagued with issues like unreliable departure times, long or out-of-the-way routes, and overcrowding. In order to get car owners to choose a communal transportation option, that option will need to provide the individual with more convenience and a better experience than their own vehicle. On-demand shuttles, or “micro-transit” as they’re sometimes called, offer a communal transportation option with the convenience and reliability of an SOV. These shuttles use data from riders to design routes, and can quickly launch new routes in response to customer demand at a relatively low cost, especially when compared to the cost of building new public transportation infrastructure. On-demand shuttles also prioritize a positive experience for riders – often offering Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, fun music, and a relaxed environment for riders to unwind and socialize – which provides further incentive to ditch commuting by car.

On-demand shuttle services aim to work within existing mass transit systems, not compete with them, and their operators often work hand-in-hand with local transportation officials to determine how they can best support existing public transportation infrastructure. When used in conjunction with mass transit, on-demand shuttles can fill in service gaps, ease overcrowding on popular routes, and take on less popular routes, saving transportation departments the cost of servicing these routes with large, half-empty buses. On-demand shuttles can also offer disabled passengers a less expensive transportation option than the “paratransit” systems that exist in cities today.

On-demand shuttles have been especially successful in cities like San Francisco, where rapid population growth has made for increasingly crowded public transportation, leading people to look for alternative commuting options. Chariot, just one of a handful of on-demand shuttle options in the area, is now providing around 13,000 rides a week on its 72 buses. In Kansas City, on-demand shuttle company Bridj has taken collaboration with transportation officials a step further by entering an official partnership with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to provide on-microtransit services to the city’s residents.

While the potential for on-demand shuttles is great, in order to get more people to embrace communal travel options, cities will have to embrace smart mobility solutions. Furthermore, on-demand shuttles, in conjunction with other solutions like ride sharing, bicycle routes, and public transportation, can help fill the gaps in existing transit options and influence car owners to consider alternate commute options. The advancement of our current systems will take some doing on both the transportation and communities part, but we’re well on our way to a better, more streamlined transit system, and I’d expect on-demand shuttles, in particular, to take-off in popularity very soon.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


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