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It’s hard enough to get into college, but sometimes, physically getting to school is the biggest barrier of all 

For many of us, going to college meant living on campus, and our feet (or bike) were how we got to class. For those living off-campus but close by (short walk, bike, or bus), mobility still wasn’t a big deal. However, for many students, transportation is the biggest barrier to getting to school, completing their education, and improving their lives. 

What if you live far from campus or your school has multiple campuses and the classes you need are offered across the city? How do you navigate that? Of course, having a reliable car is the easiest path, but that’s not possible for everyone. For many students, taking public transit to and from school is the only option. And depending on the transit network, that journey could stretch from minutes to hours, jeopardizing their ability to get to class on time or take all the classes they need. 

Connecting the dots from home to school to work on transit is a real challenge. Sometimes, a trip that takes less than 30 minutes by car takes hours on transit. That time difference can make it impossible to: 

  • Attend classes early in the morning or late at night 
  • Reach classes on satellite campuses 
  • Get to jobs on time 
  • Fulfill family obligations like childcare. 

And when any of those barriers become too much, then the thing that gives is school.  School is optional. School is extra. Earning a living and taking care of your family isn’t. Imagine working hard to get into a school to learn how to do what you love and make a career, only to have to drop out—with loans to pay back and no degree to show for it—all because transportation got in the way. 

One of the ways colleges can help make transportation easier is by connecting the dots between school, home, work, and life with on demand transit. On demand transit can’t solve all transportation issues, but it can make things easier for students to get to campus—and between campuses—just a little bit easier. 

Closing the gap between transit hubs and campus 

In some cities, the college or university is a major transit hub, but even when a college is a big hub, other activity centers connect all the parts of the city. The problem is that often, the connections between all the hubs are lacking, so students (and staff) have trouble getting from where they live to hubs to get to school. 

This happens most often during the lulls in passenger traffic: early morning, midday, or late evening. When people need to get to school during these times and can’t get to a major hub with regular service, they are stuck. 

Imagine being unable to take a class because to get home, you had to pay for a taxi or rideshare each time. Or you needed to spend hours in transit for a trip that was just a few minutes by car. Those barriers lead to people making a lot of hard choices—choices they shouldn’t have to make in the first place. 

An on-demand shuttle between the closest public transit hubs and the college hub closes the gap between the two during off-peak hours. This doesn’t solve the issue of getting from home to hub, but it’s a starting point and it could be the start of a conversation with a local transit authority about an on demand microtransit program. 

Improving safety 

A 2021 study from LA Metro in Los Angeles found that many women feel unsafe on transit. From poorly lit stops to harassment on buses or trains, women bear the brunt of the problem. Imagine waiting 20 or 30 minutes late at night at a bus stop that’s just a post in the ground next to the road with only a single streetlight illuminating the area. 

Unfortunately, that is a daily experience for many transit riders. And we all know that it borders between unsettling to terrifying. As discussed in a previous post on campus safety, one solution to this is on demand transit. Even if the shuttle can only pick someone up at a single, well-lit location and get them to a major (e.g. busy) transit hub when they need it, it’s a big safety improvement. Best of all, it is good to pick people up wherever they are and drop them off wherever they need (within a defined service area), but any solution that keeps people safe and keeps them from waiting in the dark alone is a good thing. 

Improving access for the people with the most to gain 

Looking at any disadvantaged group—PoC, women, single parents, etc.— access to transportation is one of the biggest factors for success in life. Transportation means access to jobs, healthcare, and education. And the key here isn’t just transportation but reliable and convenient transportation. Having a car that breaks down isn’t a solid transportation option. Just as living in a traditionally underserved transit desert in a city doesn’t help either. 

On-demand transit bridges transportation gaps by giving people options. While a college transportation center might only be able to support getting students to and from major transit hubs, a city with a robust microtransit solution might be able to connect a neighborhood to a transit hub or BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line that brings people close enough to campus to let the campus on demand solution finish the journey. 

Better transit access leads to education success 

The question becomes, then, whether creating this on-demand transit network makes a difference in people’s lives and helps them complete their education. 

In study after study, the answer is an unequivocal yes

When parents know they can get home in time to pick up kids from school, childcare, or a babysitter, they can focus on studying. 

When a student who is working two jobs to get through school knows they can get a shuttle right after class—right when they need it—and get to work on time, they can focus on studying. 

When an on-demand (or frequent) intercampus shuttle can get you from one place to another for that class you need for your degree and on demand transit will get you from the satellite campus close to rapid transit home, you can complete your degree on time. 

How to get started 

Starting a successful on-demand system has several parts. First, you need to determine not just demand but when people need on-demand transit and where they are going. If you imagine any college campus, they work like cities. They have peak times and lull times. They have busier “neighborhoods” and less busy ones.  During peak times in the morning and late afternoon, regularly scheduled shuttles could fill most of the need with a few on-demand shuttles to pick up the slack. But during the middle of the day or in the evenings (and when the larger public transit systems often have reduced service), you could deploy most of your fixed route vehicles to an on-demand system to help students get to larger transit hubs with better service. 

Then you need to understand the kinds of capacities you need and how to integrate transportation within a multi-campus environment. What mix of vehicles make sense for you and how do you schedule shuttles between campuses that will have to deal with traffic as well. 

Finally, you need to work with your local transit agency to ensure your on-demand solution can mesh with their schedules. You want to make sure your shuttles can get access to transit hubs to pick up and drop off students without impeding buses, light rail, or streetcars. 

An on-demand system isn’t just driving vans around campus 

There is way more to developing and running a successful on demand system than just having people driving around campus in vans with radios. It’s not efficient to have people sitting idle or driving empty shuttles. What you need is a comprehensive solution that not just manages the system, but also manages it efficiently. A system that can dynamically reroute shuttles as requests come in. A system where anyone can use an app to request a ride without needing to make a phone call. A system that can work in tandem with transit systems to make sure transportation options mesh as well as possible. 

TransLoc OnDemand is a solution especially suited to school campuses. We welcome the opportunity to tell you more about TransLoc, its customers, and how on demand transit can make the difference between academic success and failure. Click here to get started!