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What's New in City Design

Microtransit



Microtransit refers to rides provided by private firms and public agencies in smaller vehicles. While not a new concept, technology has spawned new options by private companies that offer on-demand services and dynamic routing; these services are viewed as a prelude to autonomous shuttle service in the future.  Some of these services are partnering with public transit agencies to test whether/how microtransit can work with public transit systems. 


Benefits & Problems Addressed

Filling service gaps: Smaller vehicles can provide service where public transit is deemed infeasible.

More options: New services provide mobility options where transit and taxi service is lacking or inadequate for reliable travel.

Safety: In entertainment districts, shuttles provide late night service and can reduce drunk driving.

Right-sized vehicles: Historically, agencies have purchased only larger buses. Microtransit can supply data on how to provide service in smaller, electric vehicles.


Tips & Techniques

Definition: The Federal Transit Administration refers to microtransit as "IT-enabled private multi-passenger transportation services, such as Bridj, Chariot, Split, and Via, that serve passengers using dynamically generated routes, and may expect passengers to make their way to and from common pick-up or drop-off points. Vehicles can range from large SUVs to vans to shuttle buses. Because they provide transit-like service but on a smaller, more flexible scale, these new services have been referred to as microtransit. [TCRP Research Report 188]"

History: Microtransit exists around the world in shared shuttles (or jitneys) on fixed or semi-fixed routes. In the U.S., private microtransit has been comprised of small shuttles for airports, hotels, and campuses. In the New York region, "dollar vans" continue service that began decades ago during a transit strike.  In the early 2000's, downtown districts tested multi-passenger, low-speed, electric shuttles similar to those used in resorts. Many of these services do not charge (since they would need to qualify for taxi/livery services and permits).  Rather, they operate on an advertising business model. Some public transit agencies such as the Arlington Regional Transit (ART) operates smaller routes with smaller buses to augment services not supplied by the larger regional transit agency.  In addition, transit agencies operate dial-a-ride paratransit services to qualifying riders.  The new generation of microtransit does not include paratransit or shuttles operated by private entities for their own patrons. Microtransit can include low-speed electric shuttles, though are limited to certain streets per state and local rules.

Tech-enabled microtransit. Several companies operate microtransit in the US and abroad: Via, Chariot, and the Downtowner.  Bridj was an early microtransit company that has ceased US-based operations due to several factors: inadequate outreach, poor routing and pricing. These factors were also prevalent in a pilot conducted by the Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County, California. Arlington Texas replaced its only bus line with microtransit services provided by Via. In April, 2018, Los Angeles California awarded three pilot programs to test microtransit services.

Success factors: While microtransit services are still maturing, some critical factors include (1) optimizing the service area as not to be too big, but large enough to capture a critical mass of riders, (2) determining how microtransit works with public transit to boost the overall system, in particular in feeding riders to public transit and (3) a profitable business model. Other success factors that tend to also favor public transit include (1) high parking fees, (2) subsidized fares, (3) access to priority public rights-of-way

Hot Buttons:  Based on trials, the business models do not seem sustainable without subsidies.and can detract from core public transit service (rather than enhancing it). Because microtransit has a low ratio of riders per driver, the ability to recoup costs for labor are difficult. For riders, there may not be a time saving since riders are all travelling to different locations.  Microtransit, like public transit, faces the same set of barriers with low gasoline prices, mingling in congested traffic, and higher vehicle purchases. Finally, because services are private, they are not bound by the same requirements for equitable service, which could make microtransit service unavailable to populations in most need.


Resources

UpRouted: Exploring Microtransit in the United States: Eno Center for Transportation (January 2018) 

Between Public and Private Mobility: Examining the Rise of Technology-Enabled Transportation ServicesTransportation Research Board Special Report 319 

Shared Mobility and the Transformation of Public Transit  Research Analysis, American Public Transportation Association & the Shared Use Mobility Center