James Davenport Transportion (Past, Present and Future)

21Jan/19Off

So, How’s the Commute

Written by nspiregreen on . Posted in BlogSustainabilityTransportation

Why do we pick one job opportunity over another?

Traditionally, a candidate would select the job that pays the most money. Well, as the transportation geek that I am, I propose there is much more to it today than money. I am not arguing money is no longer important, especially in areas like the DC Metro where I live, but other factors are becoming increasingly important. And, again, in the DC Metro area which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the county, the commute is a prime factor in that decision.

Find out why.

 

31Aug/18Off

Could a Van Pool Work For You?

Written by nspiregreen on . Posted in BlogSustainabilityTranspo

Find out a little history and how successful some vanpool programs have been throughout the years.

8Mar/18Off

Does Microtransit Have a Role in the Future of Public Transit?

I must admit, I am a bit concerned about future mobility for the elderly and disabled, especially in sprawling jurisdictions where there are so few options to get anywhere without an automobile. How are they supposed to get around if they are unable to get into a car and drive to a doctor’s appointment, the grocery store, the drug store, their place of employment-if they work, and other necessary destinations? Transit agencies with fixed routes may not be able to get to some of these individuals and transport them to their needed destination.

I’ve often wondered how it would work if transit agencies in large suburban counties partnered with transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, to get such individuals either to where they need to be or to a sheltered bus or transit station. Then I came across a webinar a few weeks ago conducted by the Eno Center for Transportation that focused on “microtransit.”

Microtransit was defined as a new on-demand, shared, and dynamically routed service model to augment traditional fixed-route bus and train services. It is enabled by technology like the mobile smartphone applications pioneered by privately operated TNCs.

The purpose of the webinar was to promote a paper recently published by Eno, “Uprooted: Exploring Microtransit in the United States.” The report examined three pilot projects which were implemented by public transit agencies, one in Kansas City and two in California. Though the U.S. Federal Highway Administration refers to microtransit as “a privately owned and operated shared transportation system,” these three case studies presented examples of public transit agencies overseeing the operation and hiring of private companies or contractors to design and implement a more flexible service to augment or replace established fixed bus routes.

Credit: shuttlemenc.com

Each of the case studies began approximately in late 2015, early 2016. Two of the pilots were discontinued since ridership was low, and expenses were high. While, in general, public transportation is not expected to experience full cost recovery, these two pilots were unable to meet even modest financial goals to justify the continuation of the service. In the third example, agency staff recommended to its Board the continuation of microtransit service permanently into regular service. If the Board approves the recommendation, implementation of the permanent service is estimated to officially begin in March of 2019.

This is really the first time that such a pilot study has been conducted, and it isn’t surprising that the results weren’t as strong as the project planners may have hoped. In fact, it is noted in the summary of the report that the parameters themselves, to measure success and failure, may need to be evaluated. The success of microtransit operation shouldn’t be solely based on the number of riders and the cost of the operations. Though that is what elected officials and the public will probably first look at, it is important to note other qualities of the service.

It is clear from the examples that these early experiments illustrate that ridership does not always capture the full story. Other benefits such as improved mobility, increased safety, and enhanced customer experience are not evaluated by measuring only ridership and cost. To ensure that a service is meeting the needs of riders, clear goals should be stated in the service contract and performance measures should be established and based specifically on meeting those measurable goals.

Since these types of projects are very new, especially to public agencies, it may be wise for any upcoming pilot project to enable increased flexibility in the contract stipulations during the pilot project.  This would allow the agency to make any necessary changes during the pilot without compromising the requirements of the contract.

 

Credit: Carpenterbus.com

For example, in one of the case studies it became clear after initiating the pilot that the service area needed to be adjusted to more appropriately meet the customers’ needs. Because the program was subject to standard labor protocols, staff was unable to adjust the service area quickly and instead had to go through a specified board process. Additionally, the contract did not allow the agency to adjust staffing in response to actual need.

As on-demand dynamic route technology seems to be the up and coming thing, many transit agencies may be pressured to deploy these technologies to help demonstrate to their funding agencies that they are able to innovate but also save money. The problem is, if the main goal is to demonstrate the latest technology as fast and efficient, it still may not meet the needs of the riders, especially those with moderate to low income, disabled or elderly. Regardless of technology, customers are not very likely to use a service that does not meet their specific transportation needs. One of the main conclusions from the paper is that the agencies that start implementing technology in their transit service will be successful only if they have a clear goal specified in the service contract and a specific list of challenges the technology will adequately address. As the paper states, the agency needs to ask the tough questions very early in the planning process.

Results of these pilots were somewhat mixed. It is an approach that should be considered as our population gets older and access to a car may not be practical or even safe for many individuals. To me, the key point of the paper is that glitzy technology should not dictate the service to the rider, but the needs of the rider should drive the technology. How can transit agencies serve the rider in an advancing age of technology when many of those individuals don’t have smart phones and do not have, or want, the use of credits cards?

Again, what are you trying to solve? As I said in the beginning, I am worried about individuals who live in a large county or city and may not be able to get around because they are unable to drive. I see a clear goal of microtransit as addressing those needs, not replacing the current bus or transit service but to complement it. Use the service to address first mile-last mile access to transit for those who may not live near a bus or transit stop. Services that address this need may not appear to be financially successful because the initial costs may be high and initial ridership may be low. But if people who were once unable to use a transit service, now can do so, that is a success. And if that service is adequately marketed and allowed to operate over a certain period, ridership numbers may then show success as well.

Credit: clipartix.com

Though we see many examples of privately run paratransit service, on-demand, such as Uber or Lyft, the jury is still out whether this type of service can provide public transit entities with the ability to broaden its ridership and make it more accessible to those who are difficult to reach. I believe that is where microtransit could have a key role in the future of public transit. With all the technology that is available now, if microtransit cannot improve existing paratransit service to make it more effective and efficient or help transit agencies serve those who are not being served right now, then it is not worth pursuing.