Impacts of Microtransit: Early Understanding
Last year, we wrote about the impacts of shared mobility on transportation demand management. Microtransit is a privately or publicly operated, technology-enabled transport service that typically uses multi-passenger/pooledshuttles or vans to provide on-demand or fixed-schedule services with either dynamic or fixed routing. In recent years, microtransit has gained popularity with a number of services operating in Europe and North America. At present, these services operate similar to jitneys and shuttles of the past, but they are enhanced with information technology. Microtransit’s use of smartphone technology avoids traditional and costly methods of booking rides, such as call centers or booking websites. A number of microtransit operators target commuters, primarily connecting residential areas with downtown job centers.
A few popular micro transit services include :
• Chariot (now owned by Ford Smart Mobility LLC) operates similar to public transit by running 15-seater vans, typically along predefined routes. Customers can make requests for new “crowd sourced” routes to be created based on demand. Chariot operates in Austin, Columbus, London, New York City, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Seattle. Fares typically range from $3 to $6 USD on select routes.
• Via operates as a flexible route service and allows customers to request a ride using minivans, 10- to 14-seater vans, and shuttles within a pre-defined geographic area. Via operates in Arlington (Texas), Chicago, New York City, and Washington DC. The service has also recently announced partnerships with public agencies in Berlin, Los Angeles, and West Sacramento. Fares, based on the trip distance, typically range from $5 to $25 USD (excluding trips to the airport) in most markets.
• Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen (SSB) operate SSB Flex in Stuttgart Germany. More than 20,000 passengers used the service during an initial pilot phase that ran from December 2017 through May 2018. The service provides flexible, on-demand microtransit service using 10 Mercedes V-Class vans and 2 electric Mercedes B-Class vehicles. FlexPilot trips start at €2.20 and can be paid using the app with a credit card or PayPal. The technology behind the service has been developed in close partnership with SSB by moovel Group, who is offering the service and technology to transit authorities.
A former microtransit service, Bridj (now defunct in the US but operating in Australia), used millions of data points to deploy dynamic transportation routes that change based on user demand. Previously, Bridj operated in Boston and Kansas City, the latter through a partnership known as “RideKC” with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) using ten, 14-passenger Ford Transit vans. RideKC launched in March 2016 and ran for one year. The pilot project offered on-demand rides within two areas of the city (downtown, as well as surrounding the KU Medical Center) during certain hours of the day (AM and PM commutes). These service areas are illustrated in the map below.
The Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley conducted an evaluation of the RideKC program. In general, highly-educated, Caucasian younger females were the pilots’ largest user group. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents were between the ages of 19 and 35, and 56% were female. Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents were Caucasian, and 100% had a four-year or post-graduate degree. Additionally, most of the survey respondents lived in two-person households and half had gross household incomes exceeding $100,000 USD.The pilot evaluation found:
• Price affordability and convenience were the most common motivations for using microtransit. Fifty-six percent of the survey respondents said they used microtransit because it was cheaper, and 39% said it was more comfortable than alternatives. A third said microtransit allowed greater flexibility than alternative transportation modes.
• An overwhelming majority (89%) walked to or from the RideKC:Bridj stop. About one third of respondents took less than five minutes to get to the RideKC: Bridj stop from either their workplace or their residence.
• More than half of respondents use RideKC:Bridj in the afternoon only. This could have been in part because one of the service areas surrounding the KU Medical Center had many hospital workers with shifts that fall outside of the normal workday.
• One third of respondents would have driven alone for their most recent trip, if RideKC:Bridj were not available and one third would have taken a regular KCATA bus. Twenty-two percent would have used a ridesourcing/TNC service (e.g., Lyft or Uber).
• Additionally, 25% of respondents said they drove alone less often because of RideKC: Bridj, and 16% rode the streetcar more often because of the service.
• All respondents said they would possibly, probably, or definitely use RideKC: Bridj for a $2 USD fare; however, 23% would not use it, if the fare were $3 USD.
• Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they were interested in the service, if the service area were expanded, suggesting that the geographic service coverage may have been a key factor limiting microtransit ridership.
While the impacts and understanding of microtransit are still emerging, microtransit and other shared modes have the potential to: 1) provide first-and-last mile connections to public transportation, 2) augment or replace underperforming routes (particularly in lower-density environments), and 3) provide supplemental late-night transportation service. More pilots and research can aid the public and private sectors in understanding potential synergies and the ways public transit can learn from, build upon, and interface with innovative transportation modes, such as microtransit, from a user, business model, technology, and policy perspective.
For more information on the Bridj:KC evaluation, please visit http://www.kcata.org/documents/uploads/TSRC_Bridj.pdf
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.