Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, public transit ridership had been declining throughout California and the U.S. As the pandemic ramped up, ridership plunged, and ridership has remained low through the first quarter of 2021. However, a demand for transit rides has persisted, mostly for essential trips for those without other travel options. In support of social equity and recognizing the appeal of anytime, anywhere private automobile travel, the authors of the latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research, Steps to Supplement Park-and-Ride Public Transit Access with Ride-and-Ride Shuttles, hypothesized that a more wide-ranging, affordable, on-demand service called “microtransit” should be studied as a way to build up ridership and expand geographic coverage.
For this study, microtransit 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.
Their analysis suggests microtransit:
“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,” explain the authors. “VTA’s pioneering FLEX microtransit 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. Microtransit 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, microtransit 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, microtransit 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.
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
John Niles is a Research Associate at Mineta Transportation Institute and Founder and President of Global Telematics.
Mike Pogodzinski is a Professor of Economics at San José State University and a Research Associate at Mineta Transportation Institute.
MTI Communications and Operations Manager