Integrating on-demand microtransit options into existing services allows agencies to better serve communities with affordable, convenient public transit, promoting economic mobility.
By Kellie Meilleur
Nearly 70 percent of all Americans who depend on the bus for their transportation needs make less than $50,000 per year. This, according to a report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), validates that lower-income individuals rely more heavily on public transportation than those who are earn higher incomes.
Across the nation, more and more transit agencies and cities are turning to on-demand microtransit service to expand and improve public transportation options for low-income residents.
What exactly is microtransit? Simply, microtransit is dynamic routing. It takes mobile smartphone apps and puts them to use to create an efficient mode of transport that adapts with each passenger’s trip needs. At the click of a button, passengers can book a trip that will take them on the quickest route to their desired destination.
A distinctive aspect of microtransit, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, is that it is “a privately owned and operated shared transportation system that can offer fixed routes and schedules, as well as flexible routes and on-demand scheduling. The vehicles generally include vans and buses.”
Microtransit can be easily accessible and highly efficient anda ‘no-brainer’ for many lower income individuals who can’t afford to own a car and have therefore been greatly underserved by traditional transit networks.
When COVID-19 first hit, a majority of higher income earners began working from home and using their personal vehicles for necessary travel. On the far end of the spectrum, millions of lower-income Americans didn’t have the same luxury or opportunity. They needed to get to and from their jobs and other destinations, despite sweeping changes in how transportation options had changed and disadvantaged many since the pandemic.
That’s where microtransit in its many forms came into play, and in a big way.
Many transit agencies, anxious to serve their most underserved customers and plug the gap between traditional fixed-route transportation and more individual transportation options, are offering riders fast and convenient ways to book their trips.
Microtransit has proven to be a mobility lifeline. Amid the many shutdowns we have all experienced, on-demand transit has pivoted to serve specific community needs, such as food delivery to our most vulnerable community members and transporting hospital and other frontline workers to their jobs, even in the overnight hours. In fact, APTA’s data shows that dynamic, on-demand public transit has proven to be a mobility lifeline for those in low-income areas during this crisis.
Transit industry expert, thought leader and influencer Paul Comfort recently hosted a podcast segment on his show, Comfort’s Corner, about the role of microtransit for equity and inclusion. As a thought leader in the public transportation space, Comfort sees public transportation’s role as one to improve equity and inclusion for those who need it most.First, it was for the elderly and those with mobility challenges, and now, it’s for those who are underserved.
Comfort believes that microtransit is the hottest trend to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, transportation providers made major changes to their service based on changing ridership demand and to adhere to health and safety requirements. This included altering transit routes and changing the frequency of trips. These changes immediately impacted those who had no other means of getting from point A to point B. The silver lining is that microtransit has been the solution to the transit shortage problem. Comfort explains that “microtransit fills the transit gaps, and it ensures that no one gets left behind.”
The great news is that the stop-gap solution that microtransit provides is here to stay. Significant data across several U.S. cities has recently been gathered suggesting that microtransit has been a vital public resource for lower-income individuals since the start of the pandemic. This information, along with insights shared by transit thought leaders like Comfort, help the transportation industry to look ahead to the long-term need for microtransit as part of the equity and inclusion solution.
By joining the microtransit movement and integrating on-demand options into existing public transit infrastructure, transit providers across the country can better serve their communities with affordable, convenient public transportation and promote economic mobility for all.
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