To see the future of public transportation, check out the on-demand “micro” services popping up at a number of agencies.
It is not that these will replace bus and train fleets – most likely these will remain the workhorses they always have been – but it seems that on-demand transition embodies so many of the larger trends that have emerged in the transition, especially since the COVID-19 crisis. On demand it is agile, flexible and easy to change. It is guided by data with operators who have a deeper understanding of users and where they are headed. Also, these projects are almost always built from public-private partnerships.
“I just think these types of services – flexible services on demand – are here to stay,” said Sean Miller, transportation planner at LA Metro’s Outstanding Innovation Office, during a panel discussion at the CoMotion LA conference in Los Angeles on Nov. 17.
“But the reason they are here to stay is because they increase the connections to our transportation system. They increase destinations that people can reach, they are economical and they are able to serve travel that our regular route may not always serve. Added.
Nearly a year ago, Metro launched Metro Micro, an on-demand shared travel service now available in eight areas across the region, with a ninth service soon to be available. In less than a year, the program provided about 130,000 trips. Micro enters the second year of a three-year pilot. The project grew out of a previous demonstration project of on-demand mobility (MOD) that began in 2019, in collaboration with Via. During the first year of the Via project the service provided about 12,000 journeys across three areas, connecting the riders with the metro’s larger permanent track system.
When the plague struck in March 2020 the service was immediately overturned and allowed travel from point to point. It was no longer a shared service, which means riders could only ride with other members of their household, which increases its safety. It has also become a tool for launching a grocery delivery service, helping vulnerable residents with the crucial concern around food insecurity. The key was also to maintain waiting times of 10 minutes or less.
For these and other reasons, the number of passengers in the MOD service dropped by only about 30 percent during the peak of the epidemic, metro officials say. This is compared to declines of about 70 percent in the system of regular routes.
“For the most part, people still used the service to get to work, and to perform their necessary daily errands,” Miller said. “And I think the fact that it was still really comfortable and flexible.”
Transportation agencies have realized that their role in the company goes far beyond operating a bus or train. Armed with the lessons of COVID-19, or in an unprecedentedly large way that will come from the newly signed Infrastructure Law signed, agencies strive to redefine themselves, reorient their positions and think seriously about concepts like public-private partnerships, flexibility, social and digital capital, convenience and other characteristics which – accidentally or No – came to define transportation on demand.
“Simply put, we are in a state of rebuilding. Rebuilding our team of riders, strengthening our reputation as service providers and an economic partner. Essentially, we are reimagining LA Metro,” said Stephanie Wiggins, CEO of LA Metro, in several From her opening remarks at the CoMotion LA conference last week.
COVID-19, said Salta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, “has dispelled many myths.” Some of these myths revolved around funding and the need to build a service around peak travel times. The epidemic has shown the need for more diverse funding sources, beyond the tariff box. It also revealed the many other trips we all take beyond commuting to work.
“There are so many short trips that happen throughout the day that can be served through a transition,” Reynolds said. “And I think this is an opportunity.”
Neighborhood based, agile, convenient and socially responsive are all major issues of on-demand transportation. And these are the types of philosophies that are flowing into the larger ecosystem.
“The plague has really challenged our traditional way of thinking about what transportation means, what mobility means, and how it serves the neighborhoods that need it most,” said Alois Kalkali, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation. Public Works, panel speaker Entitled “Urban Mobility at a Twisting Point.”
“The epidemic has changed the government a bit to think outside the box, be more agile and respond much faster than we would have done otherwise,” he added.
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