Covid-19 emergency funding has ended while ridership remains at about 70% pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, operating costs have increased with inflation. Agencies large and small are facing a steep fiscal cliff over the next two to three years. It would seem this is not the best time to introduce new fixed route services to your community. However, it may be a great time to add on demand services. A recent on-demand pilot conducted in the greater Atlanta area, for example, was so successful that it was expanded mid-run.
Supporting Your Community’s Needs
With flexible, on demand transit services booked by riders via a mobile app, you can continue to support your community’s transportation needs during this transitional time. On-demand provides transportation to jobs for people who don’t have cars or can’t drive. It helps our communities by enabling people to save money they would otherwise spend on a car. And it provides convenient and safe transportation for our growing population of seniors.
TransLoc OnDemand solution expands the area that you can cover, providing first/last mile services that riders need. You can extend service hours for areas that use fixed route services during times of high demand yet have relatively little demand for transit off-peak. Census bureau data shows that the population of suburban and small metros areas has grown faster than in urban and rural areas, to now comprise about 55% of Americans. Poverty has also risen fastest in these areas – about one half of the US population is categorized as poor. This is a population that needs transportation but does not have the funds to support car ownership. On demand services allow you to reach this new cohort of riders in low-density areas traditionally not served by fixed route services.
On demand services also provide an opportunity to improve the customer experience for your riders. For riders, a demand response rider app (like TransLoc OnDemand) provides real-time notifications and reduces wait times. It meets the expectations of riders used to Uber or Lyft, but at a lower price point. They can use the mobile app, online application or call directly to request pickups; services can even be configured to allow for walk ups.
Easier to Launch
On demand service is also easier to launch than traditional services. Setup is simple and relatively inexpensive, requiring only operator tablets and laptops to access administrative systems. The system is highly flexible to allow for set up and modification of regions and services. And because the system uses algorithms to determine the most efficient routes based on data like ride origin and number of riders, you are able to staff the appropriate number of operators for your needs.
In a 2018 blog post, transit planner Jarrett Walker argued that micro transit services siphon budget from traditional fixed route routes that serve many more riders, ultimately increasing economic inequality. However, post-Covid, it might be time to reassess this. In another post, Walker admits that “The only places where flexible service is the most efficient way to achieve ridership are places with very, very low transit demand, like small towns, rural areas, and the lowest-density suburbs.” Since the pandemic, commuting patterns have changed, with home buyers migrating to “homes in smaller and less dense counties that offer lower living costs and larger living spaces.” Now, people often work from home and commute to the office a few times a week, sometimes during off peak hours. These trends may now make on demand services a better choice over fixed route.
How can you tell if TransLoc OnDemand is the right option for your community? Fortunately, the system returns a rich set of data that can help you optimize both demand access and fixed route services. It provides valuable historical data to help identify trends such as underserved areas with emerging demand that qualify for fixed route service, areas with high cancellation rates, or changes in peak demand times.
Coverage is still important to agencies and can’t be ignored. But they have a responsibility to serve their entire community, wherever riders reside. After these past few volatile years, it’s time to reassess the changes in your ridership. OnDemand is a great way to pilot new services and to bring more flexibility to your existing routes. Talk to our team about adding OnDemand services to your agency’s offerings.