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1 General public demandâresponse transit service is the chameleon of the public trans- portation world. The service can take many forms in different environments and can even change its form in the middle of its duty cycle. The service can be delivered through point deviation or route deviation methods, as a feeder to fixed route transit, or as a circulator within a community providing a many-to-many or many-to-few service, and can provide circulator and feeder services with the same vehicle. How it is referred to is also changing in some communities, going by many different names such as Flex service, call nâride, dial-a-ride, on-demand service, on call, or, recently, microtransit. Terms will be interchange- able within the report, depending on terms used by transit agencies and known within their communities. This form of transit service is the âtweenerâ of public transportation, being less expensive per trip than traditional paratransit services but considerably more expensive per trip than fixed route service. It is less efficient than fixed route service in dense areas but more efficient than fixed route service in areas of lower density or demand. From a broader mobility point of view, it is more demand-driven than fixed route transit but generally not as responsive to individual requests or expensive as transportation network company (TNC) services. It is another tool in the toolbox available to public transit agencies as they try to provide the appropriate levels of supply to match the various levels of demand in their diverse service areas. The term microtransit, first coined in 2014, describes the types of services offered by pri- vate sector transportation service companies such as VIA, Bridj, and Chariot that provide what some might call a middle ground between taxis and public transit. This middle ground is defined as one in which passengers crowdsource minibus and van rides by requesting rides on their smartphones through an app provided by the private company, much like UberPool or Lyft Line (1). The private carrierâs scheduling software then uses its algorithms to optimize the vehicleâs route in real time to serve the most amount of people as efficiently as possible. The passenger is notified when the vehicle will pick up. Microtransit provided and funded through the private sector typically is offered in sec- tions of large, dense cities in areas that might not have sufficiently attractive fixed route public transit service. Private providers of microtransit need to operate in more dense areas to make the most revenue possible given their profit-making business model. The technol- ogy associated with making this type of service possible is now available to public transit agencies. This technology-enabled transit service makes it possible for a growing number of public transit agencies to provide microtransit with their own vehicles and personnel. At times underappreciated by most, the Regional Transportation District of Denver (RTD) first provided microtransit a few years prior to the entry of the privately owned microtransit S U M M A R Y Microtransit or General Public DemandâResponse Transit Services: State of the Practice
2 Microtransit or General Public DemandâResponse Transit Services: State of the Practice companies. However, RTD has always referred to their service as general public demandâ responsive transit (DRT). The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority refers to their DRT as âon-demand,â while other public transit agencies are calling their new DRT service microtransit. It is not the intention of general public DRT to make a profit. DRT typically serves areas with lower transit demand and lower densities of population and employment. These areas, usually located in more suburban and rural settings, have been frustrating for transit agencies to serve with fixed route services that tend to carry too few passengers to meet the standards of ridership performance service. When faced with dif- ficult decisions to allocate scarce operating resources, transit agencies will often reduce the amount of service in such areas, which results in even lower ridership and might ultimately result in service termination. Though demand in these areas might be low, many transit agencies feel jurisdictional equity to provide some types of service because of the financial support these areas provide to the transit system. In addition, transit agencies take seriously their responsibilities of expanding opportunities through mobility for as many people as possible in their service area and therefore wish to connect even these lower density areas to their larger system. General public DRT can provide less expensive, more effective, and more attractive service than fixed route transit in many areas or times of low demand. Interest in the provision of general public DRT (or general public microtransit) has grown in the past decade as advances in technology, and the reduction of technologiesâ costs, have made the provision of flexible and more customer-centric public transportation more feasible. Although the general intention of general public DRT is not to provide taxi- like service, the popularity of TNC services has not escaped the notice of transit agencies, most of whom have seen their ridership decline in the past 3 years as use of TNC services has increased tremendously. Peopleâs expectations for responsive services of all kinds have grown in the age of e-commerce, and public transportation is not immune to these changing customer preferences. It is not hard to understand how attractive it is to customers to know the bus can find them versus their finding the bus. Fortunately, a number of technology firms have developed sophisticated software programs with algorithms that rapidly process multiple requests for pickups and drop-offs and optimize the path of a small public transit vehicle to maximize its efficiency. Customers can reserve service through smartphones or other computing devices with no transit agency personnel needed to take reservations. Reservations can be secured through subscription well in advance or made as little as 15 minutes before someone wishes pickup (depending on the proximity of the vehicle and available capacity). Passengers can track the location of their vehicles and receive an alert through text messages or phone calls moments before they are to be picked up. The cost to the customer for this DRT or public microtransit service is generally the same as or close to fixed route transit service, while private micro- transit companies tend to charge higher fares. As almost magical as these new technologies can seem to be, it is important to realize that there are distinct limits to how many pickup and drop-off requests a single vehicle can handle in a specified zone in a given amount of time. For general public DRT to be efficient, it must multiload passengers (as opposed to taxis or most TNC services) to the maximum extent possible. Higher numbers of passengers can be carried by DRT when transit agen- cies engage in serious planning, by analyzing travel patterns, identifying trip attractors and generators, and understanding the transportation consumer markets in the lower demand areas they serve. General public DRT can then be structured with checkpoints (also known as time points) at locations within easy walking distance of a concentration of passengers, where the minibus will always stop at regular posted times or with enough frequency to
Summary 3 not need a schedule. Using such checkpoints minimizes the number of stops a DRT vehicle needs to make, which allows it to operate with more frequency or serve larger areas. On the one hand, this commonly happens when the DRT serves as a feeder to connect to the fixed route system and addresses commutersâ needs such as first mile/last mile connections to or from employment centers. On the other hand, if demand for service in the area spreads over a wider area, the vehicle can operate as a community circulator and process and serve requests for internal trips within the service zone. In all cases, the drivers of the vehicles only need to follow instructions provided through a tablet or mobile data terminal that enables them to focus on driving rather than on manually managing a hard copy manifest of reservations. Transit agencies reported having to set realistic expectations in terms of ridership when implementing general public DRT/microtransit services. Most DRT services carry between three and four passengers per vehicle service hour, though higher ridership figures are achievable when larger trip generators are present and the service is structured with time points and higher frequency cycles. Route deviation services typically only accommodate up to two deviations per trip to maintain their schedules, but that is often sufficient to satisfy the demand for deviations. The size of DRT service zones (often called Flex Zones because of the more flexible nature of the transit service being provided) ranges from less than 2 square miles to more than 30 square miles, depending on the level of demand and the number of vehicles a transit agency can allocate to the zone. Transit agencies have found that considerable effort is required to properly market and promote general public DRT. In many ways, it is distinctly different from fixed route ser- vices and people have needed help in learning how to use it. New communication and scheduling technologies might be initially intimidating for people with limited exposure to smartphones or computers, and not everyone owns a smartphone or computer. As a result, transit agencies also typically offer traditional ways for people to request trips. Extensive community outreach efforts are made to help people familiar with fixed route services adjust to the change in service and accept the change in service, while people in areas that have never had any service need to learn all the basics of using transit service. Transit agencies typically report that it is helpful to use the same fare structure and payment methods as they do for fixed route services to minimize confusion. Utilizing the same fare structure, ensuring the availability of accessible vehicles, and providing service to all areas of a DRT zone help to address equity and Title VI issues. Local policies, preferences, and provisions of the local collective bargaining agreement determine who delivers the DRT service. The majority of transit agencies to date utilize private contractors due to their lower costs and greater experience in providing other types of demandâresponse services such as Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit. DRT that is placed in areas that have no current transit service have made better candidates for contracted service, while DRT in communities with existing service have been better candidates for using transit agency personnel due to collective bargaining considerations. It might be difficult to attract private contractors to respond to a pilot project if they do not already have facilities and equipment in the service area due to the expense to prepare and the risk involved with the short-term nature of the pilot. Pilot projects have often provided transit agencies with greater procurement flexibility. Sometimes the service is completely turnkey, while at other times transit agencies contract for the service but provide the contractor with vehicles, facilities, or fuel. As with all pro- cured services, transit staff realize they must provide thorough oversight. Transit agencies with experience in providing microtransit service through a contractor advise that the
4 Microtransit or General Public DemandâResponse Transit Services: State of the Practice agency should have control over the mobile application data and request a dashboard for monitoring of data. When the contractor owns and controls the data, this ownership and control do not allow for thorough monitoring of service. General public DRT/microtransit is enjoying increased attention, and many transit agen- cies of all sizes throughout the country are issuing requests for proposals for services in their areas. These transit agencies, as well as agencies that already provide general public DRT, might wish to consider establishing a committee or working group and create listservs to allow members to share experiences and ask questions of one another for their mutual benefit. With the rapid pace of change in technology, the information exchanged in such groups is often more valuable than research reports that might be obsolete by the time they are written. The information shared on listservs might not include the last word on issues they are dealing with, but the information will provide the current information available. The number of passengers carried by general public DRT/microtransit is likely to remain a small percentage of a transit agencyâs ridership, but it is always important to provide the best quality service possible.