Late-Night Transportation: How Two Public Agencies Are Filling Service Gaps Through Mobility on Demand

By Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen


Late-night transportation options are critical to meeting the travel needs of late-night/early-morning commuters, particularly those without an automobile who need employment access and other services. In some cases, riders may have access to public transit services for the start of their shift, but service may be unavailable at the end of it. Late-night transportation services can serve an important equity role, particularly since those who benefit most from late-night services are households working second-and third-shift jobs, many of whom are low-wage earners and for whom these services are a mobility lifeline to employment. As such, late-night transportation can represent a critical economic ladder of opportunity for low-income households.

Yet, in many communities, access to public transit during late-night or early-morning hours is limited. Many public transit agencies stop running at or before midnight. While some agencies have implemented late-night services designed to meet the transportation needs of night-time commuters, these are usually much more limited than during the day and may have notably higher operating costs due to lower ridership and route productivity.

There are a variety of options available to public transit agencies looking to employ late-night services. A few of these include:

Fixed-Route Bus or Rail Service along defined routes where transit vehicles stop at a designated stop or on demand. Some public transit agencies have extended hours of service on select routes to accommodate the needs of late-night riders;

Shuttle or Microtransit Services (publicly or privately operated) that can provide late night first- /last-mile connections and fixed route or demand responsive services;

Stop Requested Bus Service allows late-night riders to request to be dropped off at a location that is not a bus stop;

Demand-Response Service providing door-to-door transportation throughout a neighborhood providing passenger mobility based on their specific pick-up and drop-off requests; and

For-Hire Vehicle Services (i.e., taxis and ridesourcing/transportation network companies (TNCs)) can be used to provide and/or replace late night transit services where ridership is not sufficient enough to support public transit service. A variety of partnerships and subsidies can be employed to make these options more affordable for late-night workers.

In recent years, a variety of public-private partnerships have emerged between public transit and on-demand mobility service providers to offer late-night transportation (and other use cases such as facilitating first- and last- mile connections, replacing low-ridership or underperforming public transit routes, serving paratransit, etc.). We feature two such late-night services below.

Pinellas County, Florida – Transportation Disadvantaged Late Shift

For example, in St. Petersburg and Clearwater Florida, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) has implemented the Pinellas County Transportation Disadvantaged (TD) Program, providing reduced cost transportation services for households that have incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty level. The U.S. federal poverty definition consists of a series of income thresholds based on family size and composition. To qualify in 2018, monthly income must be less than $1,518 for a one-person household, $2,058 for a two-person household, and up to $5,298 for eight people. In addition to reduced cost bus passes and door-to-door service, the program has a special TD Late Shift component. TD Late Shift provides late-night and early-morning free rides to low-income households as part of a public-private partnership with Uber, United Taxi, or Care Ride. The program is intended to help low-income workers who have jobs that require late-night transportation by providing free rides on demand between the hours of 10PM and 6AM, when regular bus service is not available. The program is funded through grant a from the Florida Department of Transportation’s Florida Commission for Transportation Disadvantaged.

Detroit, Michigan – Woodward 2 Work

Earlier this year, the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) launched the Woodward 2 Work (W2W), a 2,000-ride pilot program using Lyft to augment late-night transit services. The pilot program is being offered along the 53 Woodward route between 12AM and 5AM. To participate in this pilot program, users must have a Lyft account, debit or credit card, or a prepaid card with a $25 minimum balance available to book a trip. Travelers who do not have access to a smartphone can request rides using a telephone with Lyft Concierge.

Late-night partnerships with on-demand mobility services have a number of potential opportunities and challenges. By partnering with a third-party service provider, public agencies may be able to facilitate late-night, on-demand mobility services at a lower cost than infrequent and low-ridership transit services at that time. However, if a public agency does not currently offer late-night transportation, off-peak subsidies could represent an additional cost instead of saving money by replacing high-cost routes or encouraging transit connections. Public transit agencies considering late-night transit partnerships should carefully weigh the opportunities (e.g., benefits and costs); challenges (e.g., labor issues); and potential equity issues (e.g., access for vulnerable populations) associated with developing a late-night transportation program.

Identifying and understanding late-night service gaps is the first step for public agencies to help enhance mobility for these workers. Public transit partnerships that provide late-night, on demand service can help shift workers to overcome temporal and spatial barriers that can inhibit job access due to infrequent or no transit service at these hours.

Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen are co-authors of the U.S. Department of Transportation report Travel Behavior: Shared Mobility and Transportation Equity examining the Spatial, Temporal, Economic, Physiological, and Social aspects of transportation access.

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


Convergence of Sharing and Automation: Need for Proactive Public Policy and Research Understanding

By Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen

In recent years, on-demand passenger and courier services – known as Mobility on Demand (MOD) – have grown rapidly due to technology advancements; changing consumer patterns (both mobility and retail consumption); and a combination of economic, environmental, and social forces. MOD is an innovative concept based on the principle that transportation is a commodity where modes have economic values that are distinguishable in terms of cost, journey time, wait time, number of connections, convenience, and other attributes. Earlier this month, we wrote about innovations in goods delivery that are transforming transportation and consumer behavior as travelers increasingly turn to MOD. In this blog, we discuss four potential impacts of driverless vehicles and the need for proactive public policy to maximize the potential benefits and minimize potential adverse impacts.

Potential Impacts of Vehicle Automation

In the near future, automation could be the most transformative change transportation has seen since the advent of the automobile. While MOD is already impacting many cities, it has the potential to have even more notable impacts, particularly in four key areas:

Travel Behavior: It should be emphasized that the impacts of automation on travel behavior are uncertain and difficult to forecast due to a number of highly variable factors, most importantly societal acceptance and use. One potential outcome is that existing roadway capacity may increase due to more efficient operations associated with technology (e.g., closer vehicle spacing known as platooning, etc.). Additionally, operators could “right-size fleets,” providing consumers with vehicles sized based on the number of passengers and trip length. However, there is a possibility that automated vehicles (AVs) and shared AVs (SAVs) could induce demand by making motorized travel more convenient and affordable than personal driving. This could adversely impact congestion. Additionally, automation has the potential to fundamentally change historic relationships between public transportation and private vehicle use, which could support or detract from public transit ridership (we will discuss the future of public transportation in our next blog). In summary, the impacts of AVs on congestion will likely depend on whether the vehicles are predominantly shared or privately owned as well as public policy, such as pricing and restrictions on zero occupant vehicles.

Land Use and the Built Environment: AVs could result in reduced parking demand, particularly in urban centers that can create opportunities to repurpose urban parking with infill development. Infill development has the potential to increase urban densities and could in turn support higher-occupancy transportation modes. However, vehicle automation and telecommuting growth could also make longer commutes less burdensome, which could encourage suburban and exurban lifestyles.

Labor: Automation has the potential to reduce labor costs. However, automation is not likely to completely eliminate transportation jobs. With an aging population, we may likely need attendants to assist people with disabilities and older adults, security personnel, and a high-tech workforce to maintain an automated fleet.

Social Equity: While AVs have the potential to enhance access and economic opportunities for underserved communities, there are numerous challenges that could impact the equitable deployment of AVs. A few challenges could include: 1) affordability/payability (the services are simply too expensive for low-income households or require banking access); 2) availability (the services are not available equally in all neighborhoods); 3) accessibility (the services are not accessible to people with disabilities); and 4) digital poverty (the services require a smartphone or data plan to access). Additionally, AVs may employ machine learning and artificial intelligence that could create other equity concerns. While machine learning – if designed well — can help minimize human bias in decision making, it is also possible that such systems can also reinforce historic bias and discrimination in the transportation network. Just as humans learn to drive through experience, many perception algorithms use machine learning that is trained by events based on past experience. In a driverless vehicle future, machine learning may also impact where vehicles are pre-positioned, roam, charge, and other defining operational characteristics. Learning biases could create notable equity challenges in the future. There is a risk for discrimination when designing transportation algorithms for machine learning systems, including the potential for exclusionary transportation.

Need for Proactive Policy in a Driverless Vehicle Future

Public policy can have a notable influence on the success or potential challenges of driverless vehicles. Public agencies should consider proactively guiding public policy in four key areas to maximize the potential benefits of AVs:

Pricing: Public agencies should consider employing pricing based on occupancy, time of day, and congestion to encourage higher occupancy SAVs and discourage single- and zero-occupant vehicles.

Incentivizing Urban Growth and Urban Growth Boundaries: Metropolitan Planning Organizations, local governments, and other public agencies may want to consider policies that limit outward growth and encourage urban in-fill development to discourage the potential suburban and exurban growth pressure that AVs could create.

Workforce Development Programs: Local and state governments should develop workforce development programs designed to prepare for and respond to a driverless future. This should include a broad program encompassing job training/re-training and job placement resources to minimize the potential adverse labor impacts of vehicle automation.

A Comprehensive Equity Policy: Public agencies at all levels of government should consider a comprehensive equity policy to ensure SAVs are equally accessible and available to everyone. This should include policies that ensure access for people with disabilities, un- and under-banked households, low-income communities, households without access to smartphones or mobile data, and others. Additionally, this should include policies that prevent discrimination and bias from machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other systems that impact or guide the operations of AVs.

The public and private sectors, along with key stakeholders (e.g., non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, and foundations) should partner to develop proactive policies to prevent and overcome these challenges. Proactive policy and research understanding will be critical to balance public goals with commercial interests and to harness and maximize the social and environmental effects of driverless vehicles.

Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen are currently studying the impacts of connected and automated vehicles on state and local transportation agencies as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) study 20-102(11).

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


Hi-Tech Wheelchairs Will Significantly Improve Independency

While autonomous vehicles will ease many mobility problems for everyone, they cannot solve all issues and obstacles that disabled people have to face and overcome in their daily lives. So, new ideas for wheelchairs are needed to enable their users to move more freely and without much help from other people.

To achieve this, prototypes are being developed that offer a lot more options to adapt to their user’s needs and for example, make it a lot easier to get in and out the vehicle. For doing so, the new wheelchair models for example, have an adjustable seat that the user can raise or lower with just one button.

This also makes it a lot easier to reach objects on a high shelf. Another specialty of these vehicles is the backless design that makes the characteristic big wheels and armrests of traditional wheelchairs a thing of the past.

Due to alight construction, battery reach increases to up to four hours if fully charged, which will allow longer trips and developers are continuously working on further improvements.

Based on the functions and advantages, these wheelchairs will not only be useful for elderly people, but also ease many problems of disabled people.

Such a vehicle could for example park itself autonomously in the evening and come back to the user’s bedside when it is called it in the morning.

As this is just one possible addition that could be added to the wheelchair of the future, a lot more robot-like functions are being developed that will solve daily mobility issues and provide more independency for elderly and disabled people.

How else could mobility be made easier for people with special needs?

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

Robot Cars to Improve Mobility for Elderly and Disabled People

One of the Japanese auto manufacturers unveiled a tiny single passenger self-driving car to aid older people or in general, for those who have difficulties to walk. This can be one of the mobility options for people who need assisted transport for getting around the city beyond a wheelchair.

Japan has the highest population of older citizens – the population aged 65 and over is expected to reach 40 percent by 2050. In order to respond to this demographic change, the Japanese government passed many acts, mandating to make mobility services more accessible to older citizens.

Since the implementation of these acts, there is a significant improvement in public transportation. However, this is not sufficient, because Japanese elderly people drive more compared to using transit systems. In order to resolve this issue, one of the Japanese auto makers introduced a single-seat self-driving car to aid and assist people who find walking or using public transit difficult.

How does this robot car help the elderly to move around safely?

This self-driving car is smartphone or tablet enabled – pick a destination on the map and the pathfinding system in the vehicle will take care of the rest. It is equipped with a navigation system which will help to get from point A to B, a gyro sensor helps the car to remain stable on uneven surfaces, 2D and 3D laser sensors will be used to judge distance from items and stereo cameras will be used to detect obstacles in its path.

The car is designed to maneuver easily through city streets, across pavements and footpaths. Sensors and guidance systems will help the vehicle to navigate around bumps, potholes and pedestrians. As the vehicle is designed to travel only at speeds up to 3.7 mph, it would not have to deal with many safety issues.

In case of emergencies or if needed, passengers can assume control over the vehicle by using a joystick located in the cockpit.

This vehicle not only transports people, but it can also be used as an autonomous delivery vehicle for a variety of services. As they weigh 450 pounds and run on a lithium battery, they can also be used indoors for getting in and out of elevators.

Currently, the vehicle is still in the development phase and it might take a few years before they actually roll out for public use.

Do you think robot cars can provide a better mobility option for the elderly? Share your opinion in our comment section.

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

Mobility Scooters to Aid the Elderly

Like everyone else, elderly people depend on their driving to maintain their work, independence and social engagement. However, as they age, some older people are voluntarily giving up their driver’s license and are limiting their driving due to medical conditions. Powered mobility devices are going to aid them to continue and maintain their independence and quality of life.

Now with a vast range of mobility scooters with improved batteries, safety and modern designs, elderly people have the possibility to access most parts of their city such as shopping, recreation centers, hospitals and other places of interest.

Depending on their need and budget, users can choose from three-wheeled scooters (for greater maneuverability) to four-wheeled scooters (for greater stability) to even five-wheeled scooters (for both greater maneuverability and stability). These range from light, small scooters which are designed to travel on smooth surfaces to heavy-duty scooters for other road conditions.

Improved scooter design and components to change the riding experience

As the population of scooter users is growing, road accidents are becoming a significant problem. Hence, it becomes increasingly important for mobility scooter manufacturers to consider every aspect of the scooter design.

With this in mind, manufacturers made a very significant development by introducing a sealed VRLA (Valve-regulated lead-acid) battery. This can be stored anywhere on the machine and the user does not have to keep an eye on the battery’s water levels, unlike the traditional ones.

Another improvised aspect of this powered mobility scooter is the brakes – manufacturers have replaced mechanical brakes with electromagnetic brakes. With these brakes, scooters can no longer roll downhill when stopped, thus increasing the safety and reducing accidents.

The next aspect is in the chassis design. In light scooters, this new design will help to keep scooters as simple and lighter as possible. In some cases, they can also be folded up. They have also improvised the overall design to make them look more trendy and sporty. For example, one of the manufacturers introduced a heavy-duty four-wheel scooter for outdoor use.

Another problem faced by many traditional scooter users was the lack of adjustable seats and controls. To provide better seat adjustments, manufacturers introduced rotating seats allowing people with limited agility easier access.

In order to provide support to service engineers, manufacturers integrated a full interrogatory fault diagnosis and fault history, thus allowing them to interrogate the machine’s controls in different ways rather than depending on the customer. This means that the scooters can be repaired more easily.

Do you think these improvements in mobility scooters are sufficient to aid the elderly? Do have more ideas, then share them with us in our comment section.

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