On-Demand service model and Routematch Mobility Platform make Sunday public transit service possible in Redding, CA through Shasta Regional Transportation Agency.
Access to transportation on weekends— especially on Sundays— is often non-existent for small towns and cities across America. Agencies often cite that they cannot run service due to lack of drivers, costs, or perceived lack of demand.
But things are changing with careful planning, service models and on-demand technologies.
Shasta County, located in Northern California, is anchored by three cities: Anderson, Redding and Shasta Lake, all of which lie along the Sacramento River. With a population of about 180,000 people, the near 3,900 square mile area is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with tourists visiting to hike, fish, white water raft, and hunt due to its rivers and lakes. The city of Redding has experienced a slow, steady pace of growth, with new changes coming soon including an expanded mall on the east end and two new multi-story mixed-use develop projects in downtown. The Redding Area Bus Authority (RABA) is the primary public transportation provider in the region, providing fixed-route and complimentary paratransit services Monday through Saturday.
Though, like many areas, there is no public transportation on Sundays. The Shasta Regional Transportation Agency (SRTA), the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Shasta County region, is hoping to help change that by launching a two-year on-demand public transit service pilot project in October 2019, in partnership with Dignity Health Connected Living (DHCL). Oh yeah and the rides are free; at least for a limited time.
“Our region is growing and providing public transportation on Sundays has been a common request of our community. However, finding a cost-effective and efficient way to do so with limited resources is difficult. We conducted a study to help us determine the likely number of riders and what [transit] service models might work. We landed on a creative approach similar to projects in larger metropolitan areas like SacRT’s ‘SmartRide’ in Sacramento and Marin Transit’s ‘Connect’ in the Bay Area,” said SRTA’s Senior Transportation Planner, Sean Tiedgen.
The idea first hatched in November 2016 when the agency’s board of directors approved a feasibility study on providing public transit on Sundays. Existing services, travel distance, fare pricing, funding, general acceptance/perceptions, safety, reliability, resource availability, and a community survey were all part of the study.
If service were made available, 60% of the community members surveyed said they would take the service every Sunday whereas another 24% said they would take the service 2-3 Sundays a month. The purpose of their trips varied. Shopping ranked as number one, with recreational activities as second, and religious services and education as third. These reports from the community countered the common belief that there was not enough demand for Sunday service.
SRTA currently contracts with DHCL to provide Consolidated Transportation Services Agency (CTSA) services for seniors 60+ years of age or 18+ years of age with a mobility impairment Monday through Friday. Since they didn’t currently operate on weekends, it seemed like a good fit for both organizations. “SRTA has contracted with DHCL for close to two decades providing specialized demand-response public transportation in Shasta County and to/from the RABA service area,” said SRTA Executive Director Dan Little. “While this type of service goes beyond what they’re used to providing, both organizations felt this was a great project to partner on.”
SRTA found a mobility partner in Routematch to assist with service design and the technology side of the project. A mobile app would be used where riders could spontaneously request trips for pick up based on the parameters set by SRTA. The app also allows the agency to create several different types of service models simultaneously. This meant SRTA could easily experiment and tweak other services, too, for the future. For example, the agency could run a curb to curb service, curb to hub service, or hub to hub service all at the same time, allowing for an improved and more spontaneous rider experience. Opportunities for better service coverage through first mile last mile options based on true, and changing, rider demand on the ground could be explored. By having one mobility platform, SRTA would also have an automated fare collection option built in, should the time come to use it.
“What inspires us about SRTA’s project is how purpose driven it is, and the amount of direct community data that SRTA had already gathered from their feasibility study,” said Pepper Harward, Routematch’s President. “The team’s vision centers on pursuing new ways to look at public transit. Together, we have the potential to design and execute on a mobility ecosystem that could be replicated in the other 20,000 + small towns across the United States.”
The project is planned to initially run for 24 months with rides offered free of charge. This is possible through funding secured by SRTA through California’s Low Carbon Transit Operations Program, one of several programs that are part of the Transit, Affordable Housing, and Sustainable Communities Program established by the California Legislature in 2014 by Senate Bill 862. The service will employ a curb-to-curb model in which five vehicles (initially), comprising of two cutaway buses and three Ford Transit vans, will cover more than a 35 square mile radius service area. Up to ten vehicles may eventually become available, depending on demand. Service would start at 6:30 a.m. and run until 7:30 p.m. Reservations could be booked three days in advance.
Once the on-demand model was considered at SRTA, a “buzz” within the community soon followed. Transit planners from neighboring counties began exploring possibilities for addressing other pockets of communities that had specific needs.
Knowing that this would be a new experience for riders, much effort went into preparing its residents for the service. SRTA partnered with a marketing firm, Circa Now LLC., to assist with public relations and marketing, from strategy to designing and distributing radio ads, flyers, and other social media.
“I’m excited and cautiously optimistic,” said Sean. “The model itself shows a lot of potential to address low performing routes, areas of low ridership and first-mile/last-mile connections that a traditional fixed route system may not be able to reach. We are trying to make public transit not feel like public transit. It will be a different experience and a paradigm shift. We’re excited to see how the community responds.”
Does this sound like your agency?
Learn more about on-demand service models and explore how a mobility ecosystem can impact your community.