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9 The quantity of scholarly literature covering current practices in general public DRT service is relatively sparse. One likely reason is that general public DRT/microtransit, even when operat- ing at peak efficiency, will typically account for only a fraction of 1% of a transit agencyâs total ridership and consequently not draw a great amount of attention from researchers. Transit Cooperative Research Program Publications The TCRP synthesis program produced TCRP Synthesis 53: Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services in 2004, which surveyed 24 transit agencies providing some form of flexible transit that catered to individual customerâs needs (8). The synthesis report classified the different forms of flexible transit services that remain applicable today, all of which respond to some relatively low level of demand: â¢ Request stops. Vehicles operate in conventional fixed route, fixed schedule mode and also serve a limited number of defined stops near the route in response to passenger requests. â¢ Flexible route segments. Vehicles operate in conventional fixed route, fixed schedule mode, but switch to demandâresponsive operation for a limited portion of the route. â¢ Route deviation. Vehicles operate on a regular schedule along a well-defined path, with or without marked bus stops, and deviate to serve demandâresponsive requests within a zone around the path. The width or extent of the zone may be precisely established or flexible. â¢ Point deviation. Vehicles serve demandâresponsive requests within a zone and serve a limited number of fixed stops without any regular path between the stops. â¢ Zone routes. Vehicles operate in demandâresponsive mode along a corridor with established departure and arrival times at one or more endpoints. â¢ Demandâresponsive connector (feeder). Vehicles operate in demandâresponsive mode within a zone, with one or more scheduled transfer points that connect with a fixed route network. A high percentage of ridership consists of trips to or from the transfer points. The last three types of services listed are appropriately microtransit, because they typically are provided with smaller vehicles. The synthesis report noted where, when, and why general public demandâresponse services are frequently provided. They are â¢ In limited areas that are considered hard to serve for reasons of demographics, street layout, or community preference; â¢ During low-demand time periods, in which the service might substitute for fixed route oper- ation in limited areas or the entire fixed route network at certain times; and â¢ To provide the entire transit service for a small city, low-density suburban area, or rural area and often consolidated with paratransit service. C H A P T E R 2 Literature Review
10 Microtransit or General Public DemandâResponse Transit Services: State of the Practice The report reached many conclusions worthy of review. Among them is that flexible services typically have relatively low ridership and productivity levels, which are not so much a reflection of inefficiency in the service method as a reflection of the inherent difficulty of serving these areas, or inherent limitations of demand owing to low density or unfavorable demographics. In 2010, TCRP followed up TCRP Synthesis 53 with the publication of TCRP Report 140: A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services, which goes into even more detail on the implementation of flexible transit services within the United States, based on surveys of 95 transit agencies of different sizes (9). Best practices are identified, and a framework/ decision-making matrix is developed to help transit agencies determine if certain types of flex- ible services are appropriate in their communities. The clear majority of the transit agencies that responded to the reportâs survey were small or rural agencies that required reservations made the day before their travel, and few of them used automated vehicle location (AVL) technology, global positioning systems (GPS), or mobile data terminals. Another reason there is a limited amount of literature on general public demandâresponse ser- vice is that interest in the topic has only peaked as advances in technology have made truly dynamic, same-hour reservation DRT more operationally feasible. Nonetheless, there are papers and reports that address how this mode of service has been provided since the advent of technically advanced software and applications that have helped generate interest from transit agencies across the country. Early Adopters of General Public DemandâResponse Transit Service A paper prepared in 2008 by Becker and Teale described the challenges associated with pro- viding public transportation in areas of low population and employment densities (5). More important, it provided the rationale for instituting customer-centric demandâresponse public transit services in such areas due to their relative cost-effectiveness, as documented by experi- ences in Dallas and, more prominently, in Denver. The paper emphasized that careful planning is required to understand the travel patterns and needs within Call-n-Ride zones before determin- ing what form general public DRT should take among the options identified in TCRP Report 53: New Paradigms for Local Public Transportation Organizations (10). The authors pointed out that productivity will be greatest when there is more structure to the service in the form of establish- ing checkpoints (or time points) where multiple boardings can be accommodated at fewer stops. This will help to improve the frequency of the service, which transit passengers always value. Checkpoints with frequent service also obviate the need for passengers to make reservations. The paper described the technology platform needed to enable a high level of automation in the scheduling and reservations process in particular but that also integrates with many agency administrative and planning data programs (see the Denver RTD case study in Chapter 4 for detail on the technology platform). The point is clear that DRT is not going to generate high levels of sustained ridership, but that DRT will help satisfy issues of jurisdictional equity and help connect more communities within their service area to the regional network, thereby expanding economic opportunities through enhanced mobility. Becker, Teale, Morgan, and Smith produced another paper that further made the points that by targeting specific markets, intelligently configuring service, and deploying enabling technologies, metropolitan transit agencies can complement the transit network with DRT services that offer improved performance, sustainability, and usefulness (7). This paper reviewed examples of DRT implementation in Denver, Dallas, and Chicago to illustrate the principles and practices needed to develop those services that can often fill service gaps where fixed route services are not cost-effective.
Literature Review 11 In 2014, a report on best practices in implementing flexible transit services was produced by graduate students at Portland State University as a capstone project that was made available to the Salem Area Mass Transit District or Salem-Keizer Transit (also known as Cherriots) in Oregon (11). The report identified nine transit agencies providing flexible transit services and provided a brief case study or description of each agencyâs program that are worth review by any transit agency considering implementing general public DRT. The highest level of ridership (16.1 pas- sengers per hour) identified in the report was achieved by OmniLink, a service of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission. That agencyâs service is offered through route devia- tion, flexible route segments, and request stops, with no separate paratransit program serving the area. However, only one of the agencies covered in the report (Denver RTD) utilized what is now considered the sophisticated software necessary to provide dynamic, on-demand service for riders. Literature Covering Recent Deployment of On-Demand Dynamic Route Software and Microtransit The Eno Foundation produced a report in 2018 that provided a brief history of how recent developments in smartphone technology, cellular data connectivity, and mobile applications (apps) enabled the delivery of on-demand transportation that was more appealing and less expensive than traditional taxi services (12). The report noted the creation of transportation network companies that became a global phenomenon in a short amount of time. A report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Nutter Consulting prepared in 2018 claimed that it took Uber just 6 years to match the market valuation of General Motors, which has been in existence since the early 20th century. It is now estimated that there are seven trips taken in Lyft or Uber for every 10 transit trips in the United States (13). The on-demand, cashless, and often-cheaper (than taxi service) nature of ridesourcing quickly made it a popular mode of travel. The Eno report then traced the development of private transportation services (e.g., Bridj, Chariot, UberPool, or Lyft Line) that utilized on-demand dynamic route software to explore methods to pool multiple customers with differing origins and destinations into a single relatively small vehicle that began to resemble public transit services, spawning the term âmicrotransit.â The report noted the interest those services generated among transit agencies that, on the one hand, worried about private microtransitâs potential to cannibalize public transit ridership and, on the other hand, wished to see if the customer-appealing aspects of those kind of services could be incorporated into their family of services. The report provided case examples of pilot microtransit projects developed by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, and Alameda Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit), which all involved different forms of coordination with private vendors. While only the AC Transit project remains in service, multiple lessons were learned from each project. The report provided the following suggestions for future microtransit service: 1. Agencies seeking to test microtransit or dynamic, on-demand options need to prioritize customersâ needs ahead of the novelty of new technology and think critically about how to design, develop, and implement a pilot that puts the customer first. 2. Agencies should utilize a contracting mechanism that empowers those most familiar with the pilot to make quick decisions outside of the standard processes, in order to be able to fail fast and iterate quickly. 3. The success or failure of the application should be determined based on performance metrics that go beyond ridership changes and farebox recovery, such as improved mobility, increased safety, and enhanced customer experience. 4. Agencies should establish their goals up-front and work with potential technology vendors to design a microtransit project within those parameters. 5. Agencies should invest in robust marketing and outreach in order to ensure that all current and poten- tial customers understand how to use the service (12).
12 Microtransit or General Public DemandâResponse Transit Services: State of the Practice The report concludes that on-demand, dynamically routed, new mobility services that are a shift away from personally owned modes of transportation have changed customer expectations around transportation, and public transit agencies want to be responsive to those changes. How public transportation agencies do so continues to be through trial and error. A report written by Shaheen et al. was a deep dive into analyzing the performance of the RideKC microtransit project also featured in the Eno Foundation report (14). Although rider- ship and costs per rider were beyond abysmal, the report provided insights into why the project did not attract many riders through surveys of passengers and citizens and interviews with stakeholders. It was clear that more marketing to promote the service was necessary; more than half the riders were not aware of the 10 free-ride promotions, and 43% said they found out about the service by seeing vehicles driving by. More planning to determine travel patterns and customer needs was evident by the fact that 76% of surveyed respondents stated that the service did not go where they needed to go, and 31% said it did not operate when they needed to travel. Surveyed passengers also revealed that 23% would not ride the service if fares were increased from $2.00 to $3.00, demonstrating the sensitivity to higher prices for more customized public transit even when cheaper than TNC services. Since 2016, numerous articles appeared in blogs and online magazines that reported on new private microtransit services such as Chariot and VIA being established in major cities such as New York and San Francisco, as well as other large cities (15, 16, 17). However, these services, like transit, are usually subsidized (in their case by private investors) and will find it difficult to be sustainable in the world of microtransit without either continuing subsidies or using automated vehicles that remove the cost of the driver (18). In fact, Ford Motor Company announced that they would discontinue Chariot services in March 2019, demonstrating the interplay challenge for companies to succeed in this form of business in a rapidly changing landscape for transporta- tion services (16). TCRP Research Report 195: Broadening Understanding of the Interplay Among Public Transit, Shared Mobility, and Personal Automobiles explored how transportation network companies are affecting the use of public transit and personal automobiles in several regions by drawing on several sources, including one of the first uses of TNC trip originâdestination data (19). The report found there is no clear relationship between the level of peak-hour TNC use and longer term changes in the study regionsâ public transit usage. Survey results showed that âpeople who use transit or commute by driving solo do so as part of a routine; TNC services are used on a more occasional basis.â Frequent TNC use (weekly or more often) is much less common than frequent transit use or frequent driving. This and other evidence from both the Shared Mobil- ity Survey and the Four-Agency Survey suggest that for most users, TNC services are one part of a transportation menu, filling gaps or serving specific needs, but not providing the central mode for most users (19). This would imply that working in partnership with such companies, or providing a similar service, might result in drawing more people to a regionâs transit system. Other researchers provided a different perspective and have documented that services pro- vided by Uber, Lyft, and private microtransit companies are in fact competing with traditional public transit. In 2017, a University of California, Davis, study of major U.S. cities found that individuals who started using ride-hailing services decreased their use of buses by 6% and light rail by 3% between 2014 and 2016. An examination of the New York City transit system found a slowdown in the growth of bus and subway ridership concurrent with the rapid growth of Lyft and Uber in that city (12). Both perspectives are informative and have led transit agencies to consider if they might be able to satisfy some of those travel needs with their own personnel and equipment if a good business case can be made and the public good can be served.