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85 Overview Demandâresponse transit has historically been most strongly associated with the provision of services for people with disabilities. Such paratransit services are inherently inefficient due to the time needed to attend to the special needs of passengers with disabilities and the minimal amount of multiloading of passengers. Historically, there was little thought given to providing DRT for the general public with the exception of providing lifeline services in more rural areas or areas serving small communities with minimal demand where fixed route service is unnecessary and expensive. Fortunately, new advances in software and communications technologies have provided opportunities to revisit the concept of demandâresponse transit for the public. TNC services such as Lyft and Uber, along with other private companies offering microtransit, have taken advantage of these technologies to provide private taxi-like services that tend to operate best in dense urban settings and have become quite popular. Those services have not escaped the attention of the transit industry as ridership on most transit systems has declined since 2014. Transit agencies still focus their efforts on carrying the most passengers possible with fixed route services in areas of greater densities of population and employment as the most efficient and productive way to operate. However, many transit agencies now see opportunities to serve areas or times of lower demand, typically in suburban areas, in a more cost-effective way through technology-enabled general public DRT. Microtransit was initially used to describe only the services provided by private companies, but many public transit agencies are now also utilizing this term to describe their more dynamic, on-demand DRT services. Public microtransit is emerging as an on-demand service that aims to fill in gaps between traditional fixed route services, ride-hailing, and other point-to-point options, to efficiently serve areas or times of lower demand for service. Flexible transit is capable of connecting riders directly, thus reducing investment in fixed route transportation infrastructure, particularly on routes with lower demand (26). Microtransit can also greatly help people faced with bus com- mutes between 2 and 3 hours if they need to transfer more than once to complete their trip; a quick microtransit trip could take them to a route that would provide direct service to their final destination and thereby reduce their travel time substantially (27). It is not hard to understand the attractiveness of general public DRT. While being efficient, the fixed route transit model tells customers âweâre here, come and find us,â whereas on-demand/microtransit service asks customers âwhere are you, weâll come get you and fairly quickly.â Despite the increased efficiencies made possible by technology, general public DRT/micro- transit is still far less productive and efficient than fixed route transit operating in more dense areas. General public DRT tends to carry an average of between three and five passengers per hour, though some flex zones with more trip generators or attractors experience higher ridership numbers. The total number of passengers carried on DRT services usually make up far less than C H A P T E R 5 Conclusions
86 Microtransit or General Public DemandâResponse Transit Services: State of the Practice 1% of a transit systemâs total ridership. It might not be unreasonable to ask if transit agenciesâ interest in general public DRT is much ado about relatively little. As transit consultant Jarrett Walker noted, âSo far, microtransit is doing no better than demand-response transit has always done, generally worse than 3 passenger trips per driver hour, compared to 10 for the typical outer suburban fixed and 20â100 for fixed routes in dense and walkable places.â (28) Might this be an example of technology in search of a problem (29)? More than one transit planner for the agencies described in the case studies noted having to ask when âall was said and doneâ whether all the time and effort put into planning for microtransit was worth it, given the small numbers of passengers carried and the many other responsibilities they had. Those valid questions need to be weighed against the fact that the world of transportation is being changed in significant ways. A tech-savvy new generation that engages in various forms of the sharing economy is not as interested in owning a vehicle as they are in having access to transporta- tion in any number of forms. For many people the concept of owning and paying the expenses of a car that is parked 95% of the average day is simply becoming silly. Public microtransit might prove to be an appealing service for those who are comfortable with technology and with shared rides. Public microtransit could one day be a vital component of a mobility-as-a-service approach to community transportation. Nearly one quarter of American adults sold or traded in a vehicle in the last 12 months, according to a 2017 Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, with most American adults getting another car. However, 9% of that group turned to ride services like Lyft and Uber as their main ways to get around. Another recent survey revealed that 9% of those who owned cars are no longer planning on buying a new car and will rely on on-demand services instead (30). There are varying projections as to when autonomous vehicles will become common, but the automobile industry is clearly gearing up for such an eventuality. Another report found that between the years 2020 and 2030, the number of passenger cars in the United States will drop by 80%, with 60% of remaining vehicles owned by fleet operators. Ninety five percent (95%) of all miles driven will be in fleets of on-demand, autonomous vehicles (31). While this trend might not be as prevalent in suburbs or rural areas as it might be in dense cities, it bears watching by transit agencies. A growing number of transit agencies find general public DRT to be a relatively palatable way to address the issues of jurisdictional and socioeconomic equity. It enables transit agencies to fulfill more of their perceived responsibilities to provide mobility to as many people as possible to enhance their access to the widespread opportunities that exist in their regions. General public DRT serves as a complement to the regional transit network by addressing the first and last mile challenges faced by commuters and reverse commuters. Despite its relatively high cost per trip, general public DRT is, particularly when provided through private contractors, less expensive than trying to serve low demand areas with fixed routes. General public DRT might also help to minimize expensive ADA trips due to more convenient opportunities for customers to make reservations on a real-time basis rather than the day before their trip. Truly dynamic DRT that can process numerous, nearly simultaneous requests due to advances in software has only been in place since 2010 in areas served by the Denver RTD and DART in Dallas. A growing number of transit systems have instituted pilot DRT/microtransit projects, some of which were abandoned and some of which have been continued. There are other projects in Los Angeles, Orange County; York (Pennsylvania); Gainesville; Las Vegas; Detroit; San Antonio; Poughkeepsie (New York); and Canton (Ohio). Other transit systems may plan to do so within the next year. More data can be available from these pilot projects if operating agencies share their experiences with each other. At this point, there is no âmicrotransit for dummiesâ handbook, though well-documented papers covering the Denver RTD experience provide the best guidance to date (5, 7). In virtually all cases in which general public DRT has been instituted, the vast majority of passengers who use the service have liked it. The DRT service in Denver enjoys the highest customer satisfaction
Conclusions 87 rating of any of the many modes they offer. Transit agencies continue to tinker with the method of providing the service to lower costs per trip, including paying contractors by the trip or by the mile rather than by the hour. They are also exploring whether TNC services can provide trips that their own vehicles cannot respond to in a timely fashion to avoid the cost of placing another of their own DRT vehicles into service to satisfy demand and avoid trip denials. Transit agencies need to understand carefully the travel patterns and demands in their DRT zones to provide the most efficient structure to the service to maximize ridership. There are many different ways to design DRT, and they must all be considered carefully. Featuring scheduled checkpoints within DRT zones can help encourage simultaneous board- ing and minimize the number of deviations a vehicle has to make as it serves the zone, while planning the best structure requires ongoing attention to the zoneâs transit market over time and the community as it develops and changes. This planning should be done by internal staff with experience in transit and local knowledge of the zones being served, supplemented with community input and assisted by technology companies with particular expertise in scheduling or reservations software and communications technology. Otherwise, even with the best data available, designing the best service plan for a DRT zone entails a good amount of guesswork, particularly in areas that have never had transit service. There are some geographic zones, how- ever, that would benefit from the presence of a microtransit service that serves as a community circulator and responds to trips one at a time with little structure other than connecting to the nearest regional bus stop at regular time intervals. Each community served by general public DRT needs to understand the definition of success. This new form of DRT has the ability to expand mobility opportunities and serve lower density areas while being less expensive than fixed route transit. If transit policy boards are comfortable with the fact that there will be a higher cost per passenger and relatively low volume of rider- ship, then general public DRT can be considered an acceptable and useful mode of service that fills a gap within the full family of services provided by the transit agency. They should be able to learn from the experiences of other transit agencies enabling them to improve the efficiency of the service over time. Areas of Future Study It has often been said that general public DRT can possibly minimize the number of requests for ADA paratransit service, thereby reducing the number of more expensive ADA trips and saving a transit agency money. While this seems like a sound theory, there is no clear evidence of that based on agency reports. A closer examination of how often passengers are being carried who otherwise would have used ADA paratransit would be valuable to know, particularly for those wishing to make a legitimate case for general public DRT. Robust microtransit might help cities and transit agencies reduce parking facilities and encourage development of underutilized space. Insufficient train station parking is an issue for many transit agencies, and customers are not always confident in the safety of their vehicle as it is parked all day in a location far removed from the owner. Such station parking and other urban parking are often costly and an inefficient use of space and could be redeveloped to build housing that accommodates growth, including transit-oriented development. The Regional Plan Association estimates that, in the New York metropolitan area alone, up to 250,000 housing units could be built on existing station-area parking lots. However, customers might be reticent to give up their parking if there has been no assurance they will have equivalent or better ways to get to the station (32). An analysis of the cost benefit and feasibility of providing microtransit services in lieu of parking facilities might be of interest to transit agencies with rail or bus rapid transit stations.
88 Microtransit or General Public DemandâResponse Transit Services: State of the Practice While it is unknown how far into the future automated transit shuttles will be in service, there are consultants who predict it will not be decades but possibly only a few years. Automated transit shuttles on streets are deployed in different areas of the world (33). It is expected that smaller vehicles will be able to be produced relatively inexpensively through 3-D technology. If electric batteries also power automated transit shuttles, the cost of purchasing and operat- ing such vehicles will be lower by orders of magnitude than todayâs methods of service (34). Research on how those probable changes in technology will affect transit might be undertaken to allow transit agencies to prepare for potentially increasing public microtransit. Interest in providing public microtransit is definitely growing, but there has been no develop- ment yet of service guidelines for the various forms of DRT. Within the next 1 to 4 years, there will be additional experience gained through the many microtransit pilot projects to develop a better ability to predict what productivity can be expected in different settings and what nuanced tweak- ing might be applied to improve ridership and reduce costs per trip. A research principal inves- tigator could lead committees comprising transit agency planners and planning consultants to develop more clear guidelines and service standards for a variety of types of general public DRT. Although microtransit is less expensive per trip than paratransit services, it is still significantly more expensive on a per trip basis than fixed route service. There is a need to explore and review what the range of acceptable costs per trip are for general public demandâresponse transit. Might there be complaints issued by lower income communities (similar to the rail investment versus bus service issue) against certain forms of microtransit when the costs per passenger trip are high and the communities benefiting from the services are sometimes affluent? Up to this time, general public DRT or microtransit has been provided in areas and during times of lower density and demand. Another area of research is whether public transit agencies might explore providing microtransit services with their own resources in areas of higher density or leave that market to private sector microtransit providers. A future research question to ask might be, What will be the factors to decide when general public DRT or microtransit might be appropriate in concentrated urban areas that support fixed route transit?