MTI Researchers assess supplementing public transit access with micro-transit shuttles

July 16, 2021

Analysis suggests micro-transit has potential as a substitute for sparsely used bus routes

Researchers with the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) this week released a report hypothesizing that more wide-ranging, affordable, on-demand micro-transit services should be studied as a way to build up public transit ridership.

For this study, micro-transit refers specifically to the use of van-sized vehicles to cost-effectively reach more residential neighborhoods and destinations than is possible with fixed-route bus service. The authors examined the operation of one public transit agency—Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)—as a case study example of current practice. They analyzed ample available public records on that agency’s operations and planning, conducted telephone interviews, and assessed reports from the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database. 

According to the MTI researchers, their analysis suggests micro-transit:

  • Is a viable strategy where fixed route productivity is below 15 boardings per hour. 
  • Implementation by transit agencies could substitute for fixed-route bus service, or expansion of service where fixed routes are not likely to perform well. 
  • Has potential as a substitute for sparsely used bus routes in California
  • Has potential for meeting the legal requirement for service to disabled passengers for whom walk-up access to fixed-route bus service is impossible.

“California transit agencies should continue to consider, plan, and implement mobility on demand services combining general purpose trips as well as the special trips for ADA qualified passengers and non-emergency health trips,” the MTI researchers explained. “VTA’s pioneering FLEX micro-transit pilot service in 2016 showed that if reduced operating costs and higher boardings per hour could be achieved, general purpose, on-demand transit could cost-effectively replace fixed-route bus service with low ridership. Micro-transit provides a bridge to recovery when the pandemic eases, even if the recovery takes several years." 

The findings from this study conclude that ridership recovery from the depressed levels of 2021 can be targeted to provide complete origin-to-destination trips for presently underserved populations and neighborhoods by introducing new, high-quality, on-demand, point-to-point services that are well promoted, marketed, and priced. Overall, micro-transit should be managed with consideration of future conversion back to scheduled, fixed-route alternatives if demand grows sufficiently to meet productivity and travel-time standards. Still, micro-transit feeder services to mainline fixed-route rail and high-usage bus trunk lines can continue to be useful to promote transportation equity today and in the coming post-pandemic years, MTI says.

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SOURCE: Mineta Transportation Institute