Pre-pandemic, public transit was being increasingly cannibalized by on-demand ride-hailing services, resulting in reduced transit ridership, higher traffic congestion, and more pollution. But the pandemic overhauled the transportation system, including transit, and ride-hailing models did not thrive during the COVID-19 upheaval. The latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) perspective, Microtransit: A Good Idea Just Got Even Better, posits that public transit agencies can better adapt to post-pandemic transit needs with some of the flexibility previously offered by ride-hailing.
Perspective authors Joshua Schank and Emma Huang were the architects of two on-demand microtransit systems for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), including a pilot—in collaboration with Via—that offered shared, on-demand rides to and from three of LA Metro’s busiest stations and an on-demand microtransit rideshare. Other cities, including Seattle, have launched similar programs offering “public transit that comes to you.”
Microtransit is a demand-responsive shared transit method that utilizes small-scale vehicles like minibuses or shuttles, to deliver transportation to the public. Often, microtransit offers riders an on-demand option that is more flexible than appointment-like paratransit and designated fixed routes. This perspective argues that microtransit may be more useful than ever because:
“The pandemic has also brought into sharp focus the fact that Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) are not financially sustainable businesses,” explain the perspective’s authors. “While Uber and Lyft used to present themselves as the future of transportation, taking on everything from reinventing the bus to eliminating drivers, the pandemic has brought them back down to earth. Now it appears likely that the technology and improvements they have brought to transportation will live on in some form, but they are unlikely to continue to be affordable to the masses.”
The shift toward remote work triggered by COVID-19 has created new travel patterns that require greater flexibility—which microtransit is well-equipped to provide. In addition, the last few years have increasingly exposed substantial inequities in mobility, which microtransit can help to mitigate. In a time of significant upheaval and change, microtransit shows remarkable potential in fulfilling community transportation needs for safety, affordability, accessibility, and flexibility.
ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE
At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Joshua Schank is a Research Associate at the Mineta Transportation Institute. He holds a PhD in Urban Planning from Columbia University and a Master of City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Managing Principal at InfraStrategies, and a Senior Fellow in the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Schank previously served as Chief Innovation Officer of the LA Metro, President and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, and Transportation Policy Advisor to Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Emma Huang is a Senior Consultant with InfraStrategies LLC. Emma previously worked as a Transportation Planner in the Office of Extraordinary Innovation at LA Metro. She has a Master of Public Policy from the University of California, Los Angeles.