How to Select Your First Microtransit Service

Jay PerryBlog

Agency-owned microtransit provides the flexibility and accessibility that today’s transit riders crave. When paired with a fixed-route service and optimized by smart data, transit agencies can benefit from reduced expenses while maintaining agile and exceptional service.

There is a tendency to “go big” when launching a microtransit service by implementing it in a huge, complex geographical area in order to reach the most riders. The traditional ways of transit planning, where projects tend to be larger in scale and are designed to last for decades, are incompatible with the considerations needed to launch a microtransit service.

No two microtransit services are identical. Why? Because every community served by microtransit possesses different geographies, infrastructure challenges, political pressures, and risk tolerance.

You may think that choosing your first microtransit service can feel overwhelming because of its inherent variability. Truth is, it’s not as complicated as you might imagine. These are the best practices to help you make the right decision for your agency and riders:

Start with a Specific Service Area

Success lies in keeping your first venture into microtransit small and contained. Focus, test, and iterate on a particular mobility challenge, and then slowly expand over time. An experienced microtransit vendor should ask you to come to the table open-minded. Their goal should be to collaborate with you on a problem-discovery process that identifies a single challenge to solve, as well as defines the parameters of the microtransit service. 

Run Simulations First Before Submitting an RFP

Detailed simulations powered by modern data analytics can help you anticipate the outcomes for each application. When creating simulations, use the identical microtransit algorithms written into the actual service software. This allows for a range of different variables to be precisely modeled, bringing you results that are much closer to a live microtransit service.

Listen to the Data

With new innovations come new and sophisticated approaches. Data is the nutrients of microtransit, enabling transit agencies to pivot in times of declining ridership, public health crises, or civil unrest. Persistent evaluation of trip data can paint a compelling and evolving picture of a community’s movement patterns and mobility hubs. Ask these questions and listen to how the data responds:

  • What financial and operational resources are available for a microtransit pilot?
  • What kind of applications are being considered (e.g., full on-demand service, first-mile/last-mile service flexibly connected to fixed routes, commuter route replacement, automating an existing dial-a-ride, etc.)?
  • What is the size of the service region? Is it a specific neighborhood, a geo-fenced area, a three-mile zone, or a ten-mile zone?
  • Are rides moving in the same direction? Is there a pattern to the rides or are they completely random? Can these rides be grouped together?
  • What are the wait times for riders? How much time are riders spending on the vehicle?
  • Are there service peaks? Is the service used consistently throughout the day or does high demand coincide with traditional work and school schedules?
  • How complex and expensive would it be to market and promote the service? Automating an existing dial-a-ride service, for example, could be successful from day one. Or, is it a brand new service that marketing could make or break?

This is a sample of the information that a team of AICP-certified transportation planners would evaluate when determining a service’s best chance for success. It’s a smart approach that manages service risks using data analysis and modeling.

Microtransit represents an important piece in your community’s mobility puzzle. When the puzzle is completed, your riders will experience a transit system optimized for safe, healthy, and sustainable public transportation. Let’s partner up and start putting the pieces together.

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