What is Microtransit?
Microtransit is a service that functions like UberPool or LyftLine, using mobile apps and algorithms to match passengers making similar trips in a single vehicle. Unlike a fixed route bus, microtransit vehicles are able to adjust their route in response to user demand. Microtransit services may be directly operated, contracted, or a collaboration between the two.
What type of agency should consider adding a microtransit component?
I get calls from transit managers all the time with some version of this request: “I’ve been hearing a lot about microtransit, and my board is telling me to look into it. Will microtransit solve all my problems? Is it as good as everyone says it is? Can you tell me exactly what it is? How do I get it?”
What do you tell them?
Microtransit could be a very good thing, but it’s not the whole thing. The idea of microtransit is that you could reduce operating costs by replacing an underutilized fixed-route bus service with an on-demand, fuel-efficient fleet that runs when people need rides. It could improve the rider experience, using new technology and real-time communication. There is a lot of promise there, but there are also problems. Adding a unique microtransit service is expensive if you have to buy a new fleet. You also have to pay for advertising and marketing, if your community is going to know how to use it. Perhaps the biggest problem with microtransit is the inclusivity component: It’s not ADA-compliant. To use the service, a rider needs a cell phone and a data plan and a bank account to put your credit card in the app. At Routematch, we believe that microtransit has great potential to be part of a solution, but we don’t think it’s the whole solution. We think that microtransit should fit into a bigger ecosystem of transit services.
What do you mean?
With our mobility platform, for example, you could integrate a microtransit service into the framework you already have. You could use a paratransit vehicle to deliver a microtransit service. If someone needs a ride, the platform could alert the driver of a nearby paratransit vehicle. Depending on the needs of an individual transit agency, there are so many possibilities.
Can you walk me through a conversation with a transit manager who’s considering microtransit?
The first thing I’ll want to know is: “Where are the current gaps in your service?” I want to know which riders are calling the reservation line and being told, “Sorry, we can’t get you there.” Every agency has service gaps, and you may have them for a lot of different reasons. It might be a scheduling issue (say, if you don’t operate late at night). Or the destination might be outside of your service area. It’s very important to be aware of your service gaps. You can’t improve service if you don’t know the limitations of the service you’re providing.
Once you identify an agency’s service gaps, what’s the next consideration?
I will ask, “Are you interested in providing that service?” Some people will say no, because another transit provider in the community is already taking care of the need. Or perhaps the agency’s budget is already stretched too thin. But some people will say, “Yes, we want to fill in the gaps, but we’re not sure how.” That’s when I’ll start talking about the technology options for microtransit.
What technology is required for adding a microtransit service?
Adopting a new technology involves three parts:
1. Rider-facing: How will the public use the new technology? How can riders manage payment and book a ride?
2. In-vehicle hardware or tablet: A tablet will provide drivers with their route and passenger information.
3. Core back-end software applications: This is where an agency can design and build the unique service that their community needs.
Can you give an example of an agency who’s adopting a microtransit component?
People always ask, “What are other agencies doing? What’s working and what’s not working? How did they make their decision?” I like to use the example of Shasta Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) in Redding, CA. The local transit provider, Redding Area Bus Authority (RABA), has a major service gap. They don’t provide service on Sundays. A major problem for the elderly and disabled within the community. SRTA started asking community members if they would like to use transit on Sundays, and the overwhelming response was yes. Thirty percent said they would like to use transit in order to attend faith-based institutions. SRTA wanted to try a microtransit solution, but they wanted to integrate the service into their whole transit ecosystem. They wanted to be able to grow, expand, and adapt their service based on results. Beginning this summer, with Routematch technology, SRTA, in partnership with a local non-profit transportation provider, will begin running an on-demand Sunday bus service.
Have you ever connected an agency considering a new technology with an agency who’s adopted the technology?
Yes, I love doing that. It’s a great idea to speak with people who are using the software that you’re thinking of getting. You can ask how they made their decision, how the implementation has been, and any challenges and successes faced along the way. If an agency is interested in the software, we’ll come to you and show you how it works. You can see the app and play with the various features. In a live demo, we’ll walk you through all the functions. General Managers will often invite members of their team—like the IT or Operations Manager, or a driver—to ask questions and see how they would use the technology.
So will microtransit solve all of an agency’s problems?
Laughs. The discourse around microtransit can get pretty heated in public transit circles. Whenever I read an article about microtransit, I’m always interested to see the comment section. (Am I the only person who reads the comment section?) Some people will be saying it’s the greatest solution; the pilot programs are working. Other people will be saying the implementation of microtransit has been a disaster.
So much depends on an agency’s unique goals and objectives to serve its unique community. Like I said before, I think microtransit can be a very good thing, but it’s not the whole thing. Microtransit should fit into a larger mobility ecosystem.
Teague Kirkpatrick has worked at Routematch for almost a decade. He came to the company with a strong desire to work in technology. As Sales Director at Routematch, he works in the Denver, Colorado office. He loves traveling to different transit agencies and learning their unique stories. He enjoys hearing how transit is making a positive impact on the community. At home, Teague is a proud husband and the father of two young kiddos. He and his family can never get enough of the beautiful Colorado outdoors.