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.