A Goldilocks System: The Not-Too-Big Not-Too-Small Microtransit Solution
The transportation industry is largely concentrated at two ends of the transportation spectrum. The first extreme is the mostly solitary endeavor of private automobiles or taxi services, while on the other end, there’s the highly populated and fixed public transportation. But between these two opposite staples of transportation in America, there is a new emerging form of transportation that combines the advantages of the flexibility and speed of the single traveler with the economy of public transportation: microtransit.
Microtransit is the middle ground between a taxi service and public transit, and it can be broken down into two main categories:
- Transport services that operate by commuting shuttles based on user demand
- Services like UberPool that let you split a ride with people nearby who have a similar destination
While ride-sharing networks like paratransit agencies have existed for a long time, the growing trends of improved data optimizing technology, increased smartphone penetration, and lower car ownership have made efficient microtransit cheaper and more practical than ever.
Many companies are taking advantage of this bright opportunity, like Chariot in San Francisco. Chariot is a crowdfunded network of commuter routes, designing new routes based on where commuters live and want to go. Under the leadership of Ali Vahabzadeh, Chariot operates seventy 15-seater vans running eight routes throughout the city. Other cities and companies are also joining the progressive trend, such as UberHop in Toronto, RideCo in Waterloo, Ontario, and Via in New York City. Across North America, more and more people are recognizing the potential of microtransit to revolutionize transportation.
While San Francisco and many other cities are excited about the possibilities with microtransit, some city officials have resisted what they see as a private sector movement encroaching on already underfunded public transportation. There are, however, many opportunities for microtransit companies to collaborate with rather than compete against public transit systems.
- Microtransit solutions can address the “first-mile, last-mile” problem, acting as a bridge that serves consumers from far off areas and feeds them into the public transit system.
- Microtransit can operate in low density or remote areas that public transportation has a hard time reaching, increasing the reach of the network.
- Microtransit can also attract niche populations that public transportation has a hard time reaching; because of its small-scale service.
- Microtransit has strong potential for replacing the costly paratransit services that many city public transportation systems currently run.
The data driven, small scale solution microtransit provides is not in direct competition with public transit, but together they can form a mutually beneficial relationship. Transportation demand management programs may soon begin integrating public and private carriers to create a larger, more productive network. Rather than being threats, private microtransit agencies can become the partners of public transportation, improving the scope and efficiency of the entire transportation structure.
The digital world experienced massive growth in the past decade, with the amount of digital information created and shared in the world increasing nine-fold in just the past five years alone. Coinciding with this rapid expansion of this technology is an equally impressive expansion of data driven solutions, and together these trends have spurred the growth of microtransit to address a previously unmet demand in the transportation market.
Mobility is and has always been about moving people, and modern solutions are making mobility faster and easier than ever before. Innovation is changing the world of urban mobility at a rapid rate, and microtransit is leading the way.