More cities across the US are seeing on-demand bus shuttles being integrated into their public transportation systems as traditional bus routes are either overcrowded or running a major financial loss due to low ridership [1-2].
California has a number of cities that are now running ‘micro-transit’ busses, such as the FLEX program in the East Bay suburbs, east of San Francisco. FLEX started in July 2016 and has been growing since, with a 33% increase ridership in 2017 alone. Riders can book in advance to catch a bus at the nearest stop, or get on the busses at the BART stations without reserving. The vehicles can take a more direct path, which allows the buses to run more frequently, and makes trip times faster for riders .
The West Coast is known for being a bit ahead of the curve, but it’s not the only place where on-demand transportation is taking off. Kansas City, Missouri, now offers an on-demand shuttle program after transportation officials partnered with the private company Bridj .
These partnerships have also happened between transportation authorities and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. In the Tri-Valley area of California, where ridership is so low on busses that service costs authorities almost 20 USD per trip in some cases, partnering with Uber is a more affordable alternative for the authorities, and also a more convenient option for riders .
I recently wrote in this newsletter about how ride-hailing companies may or may not be cannibalizing riders from public transportation. The downside of this is that the public transport authorities lose not only passengers, but also the subsequent funds. And while Uber and Lyft are cheaper options now, they are currently not operating at a profit and will not be able to continue their current business model forever. But, the rise in usage of these services demonstrates where on-demand shuttles could be most useful. And these options that offer people an opportunity to take communal transportation in a more productive way (i.e., when they need it, where they need it) could represent a more efficient use of public subsidies.
Written by Ella Rebalski, RISE Viktoria
1. 30-03-2017. How On-Demand Shuttles Can Fill the Gaps in Mass Transit.