On Demand Transit and Microtransit: Where and Why When to Choose Microtransit?
- Date: November 2, 2023
With an understanding of the concept, benefits, and use cases of microtransit and the areas where it is most suitable, it is possible (and essential) to determine when microtransit is an appropriate solution for an agency or jurisdiction through an inclusive engagement process that develops the vision and sets goals and objectives for the service based upon community need. This chapter outlines a process to identify the needs a microtransit service could address in a community through an inclusive stakeholder and public engagement process. It provides a guide for transit agencies in developing goals and establishing performance metrics for microtransit services and discusses key considerations related to delivering equitable service.
Engagement plays a critical role in the success of a microtransit service. During the early stages of a microtransit project or study, agencies should engage stakeholders and the public and use their input to guide the development of the service’s goals. These groups should also be engaged at various times during the planning process to ensure their input is captured throughout planning and implementation. This section outlines the phases of developing and implementing microtransit services and the engagement strategies that can be used.
Visioning and Developing Goals and Objectives
Early in the planning process for microtransit service, a transit agency should create a vision for how the service will address community needs. In addition, the agency should develop goals and objectives that are supportive of the vision and will inform the actions taken to develop, implement, and modify microtransit services.
Stakeholder and Public Engagement During Visioning and Goal Objectives Development
Internal staff and operators should be engaged early in the process to gain an understanding of what is working well with the current system and what needs improvements. Engagement during this phase can also help educate staff, stakeholders, and the public on the potential benefits of microtransit service for the community, as well as the potential limitations. The objective of the first round is to identify issues, establish goals, and set priorities for this new type of service.
Disadvantaged groups, particularly people with low incomes, people with disabilities, and people of color, should be engaged by reaching out to organizations that represent them. Transit agencies should refer to their Title VI Public Participation Plans for guidance on how to reach these communities. Agencies can include individuals that can represent the perspectives of these populations in working groups, conduct individual briefs, or hold outreach events in areas and community centers that are easily accessible by these groups. Paratransit providers that operate in the transit agency’s coverage area should also be included in the engagement process because they have direct insights into the needs of a group who are likely to use the service and who may have specific transportation-related needs
Defining Goals and Objectives
Building on the vision and based on the results of the market analysis and the engagement process, a transit agency should define goals and objectives for a microtransit service. Most agencies will already have agency-level goals but will want to develop additional goals for a specialized microtransit service. Goals for microtransit will help determine where zones should be located and how the service should be designed to serve the community most effectively. Goals will vary depending on the transit agency and local context. Example goals and objectives for microtransit service are shown in Table 6.
Table 6: Example Goals and Objectives for Microtransit Service
|Topic||Example Goal(s)||Example Objective(s)|
UTA conducted a workshop with stakeholders, and focus group meetings with state and local government agencies, major employers, community organizations, and nonprofits. This resulted in the establishment of key goals for its microtransit service:
- Provide FM/LM connections to transit
- Improve mobility in hard-to-serve areas
- Reduce private vehicle dependence
Planning and Development
The planning and implementation phase is important to not only design the service but determine the most effective way to roll out the service. During this phase, the public will be asked about their thoughts on key features of the service (e.g., zonal boundaries, fare, accessibility), which in turn will be used to develop targeted performance metrics to ensure the service is being operated in a way to meet the goals and objectives defined in the visioning phase.
Stakeholder and Public Engagement During Planning and Development
During the planning and development phase, engagement helps to keep the public well-informed about the proposed service and any associated changes to the existing service. This phase generally occurs after the service has been defined, funding has been secured, and an implementation plan has been developed. The engagement conducted during this phase should be used to identify whether further modifications to the plans are desired and especially to educate the public and stakeholders on how the service will work and will benefit them, helping to generate stakeholder and customer buy-in.
Establishing Performance Measures
One or more performance measures should be identified to measure the achievement of each objective. It may be significant to note that the poor performance of one metric may not be indicative of the service overall. Baldwin County, Alabama’s BRATS microtransit service, provides one such example. In September 2020, the agency overhauled its service, eliminating its existing demand response (i.e., dial-a-ride) service to launch an on-demand microtransit service. Since implementing the new service, vehicle miles have increased considerably. Average miles per trip increased from 5.6 in 2020 to 9.7 in 2021. Despite this poor performance, staff report that the new accessibility the service has provided the community far outweighs the downside. BRATS has reported increased ridership, new riders, and improved communication with riders.
Examples of performance measures transit agencies could consider using are provided in Table 7.
Table 7: Example Performance Metrics for Microtransit Service
|On-Time Performance||To assess on-time performance for microtransit, agencies can look at arrival time, which is the difference between the projected arrival time (which a passenger is given they book a trip) and the time the vehicle actually arrives to pick them up. Microtransit buses could be defined as having an “on-time” arrival if they arrive within 15 minutes of the projected pick-up time. This metric assesses the quality and reliability of service.|
|Average Wait Time||For on-demand service, the average wait time is measured from the time the trip is requested to when the vehicle arrives. It is a distinct measure from arrival time.|
|Cost Efficiency||Cost efficiency measures the operating cost per revenue hour and revenue mile.|
|Cost Effectiveness||Cost effectiveness measures the operating cost per passenger trip or even the subsidy per trip.|
|Customer Satisfaction||Feedback can be collected to evaluate how content riders are with microtransit service. This can be accomplished through surveys or within the app. In-app programming may allow app users to rate their rides on a scale of one to five. Trips with a rating of three or lower are considered unfavorable.|
|Number of ADA paratransit-eligible customers using the service||Microtransit service is capable of shifting trips from ADA paratransit to microtransit service. ADA paratransit usage can be presented as a percent of total trips.|
|Operating Effectiveness||One key measure of operating effectiveness is passenger trips per vehicle revenue hour.|
|Trip Request Status||Trips can be marked as completed, canceled, no-showed, not accepted, seat unavailable, or other error. The productivity of service is affected by the service’s ability to complete trip requests and match riders with vehicles.|
|Trip Length||Trip length is measured by the number of miles that passengers travel. Transit agencies have also used the onboard time to measure the length of minutes between customer pickup and drop-off.|
|Total Passenger Boardings||The number of trips provided by the service.|
|Total Unique Passenger Boardings||Tracking unique riders versus total trip requests.|
Capital Metro in Austin, TX conducted an effort to assess potential zones for its microtransit service, Pickup. The agency developed a list of performance measures the transit agency could use for operational and financial evaluation. Capital Metro then established service standards and goals for each metric to represent the minimum level of performance and desired level of performance, respectively. The metrics were designed to help the agency compare different microtransit zones.
To establish metrics, the transit agency needs to have a means of collecting relevant data. A recent TCRP report, Redesigning Transit Networks for the New Mobility Future, includes the checklist, which details considerations for developing metrics.
- Which objectives does each of the metrics measure?
- Does my organization have good data to support each of the suggested metrics?
- Does my organization have the capability to easily measure the metrics over potentially several service scenarios or iterations, such as through automated calculators/scripts and/or GIS-based tools?
- Are there duplicative metrics that seem different but are essentially measuring the same thing?
Equity in Service Provision
Equity needs are especially important to consider in a microtransit planning process due to microtransit’s typical reliance on smartphone apps, access to data, and electronic payment. The Federal Highway Association (FHWA) categorizes transportation equity barriers through its STEPS (Spatial, Temporal, Economic, Physiological, and Social) to Transportation Equity framework. STEPS provides a framework for addressing transportation equity and focuses on these five barriers to accessing preferred destinations or shared mobility services. Shared mobility services help remedy or mitigate some barriers, but they can also raise their own. Table 8 presents a STEPS analysis identifying equity-related considerations for microtransit.
Table 9: STEPS Equity Analysis for Low-Income Groups Using Microtransit
|Equity Dimensions||Microtransit Considerations|
|Spatial Barriers (Is it where I need it to be?)||Size and location of the service area|
|Temporal Barriers (Can I use it when I need it?)||Coordination with fixed-route service
Time cost of shared ride
|Economic Barriers (Am I able to pay for it?)||Smartphone possession
|Physiological Barriers (Am I capable of using it?)||Walk/roll to/ from pick up/ drop off
Wheelchair accessible vehicle
|Social Barriers (Is it desirable and approachable?)||Safety/security in close quarters
Privacy of home location
Culturally and demographically appropriate outreach
To build equitable transit services, transit agencies should consider how the service accommodates specific user groups. Described in more detail below, these groups include but are not limited to transit-oriented populations (e.g., low-income individuals, people from zero-car households), people with disabilities, and unbanked populations.
As defined in Transit Need/Propensity, transit-oriented populations tend to rely on transit for many of their mobility needs. Microtransit can increase transit access for transit-dependent populations. Spatial, temporal, and economic barriers, in particular, should be considered for this group.
As discussed in 2.2.4 Fare and Payment, unbanked individuals are those who do not use banks or financial institutions and thus do not have reliable access to credit or bank debit cards. Therefore, if cash is not accepted onboard microtransit vehicles (and the service is not free), transit providers must find a way to accommodate unbanked people.
- Transit-Oriented Populations
- Has the microtransit service area (in terms of location and size) been developed with the intention of serving transit-oriented populations?
- ADA Accessibility
- Does the fleet include Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles?
- Does the service accommodate people with visual or hearing impairments?
- Does the app accommodate people with visual or hearing impairments, for example, adaptive font size and screen readers?
- Does the app allow for translations to accommodate people with limited English proficiency?
- Has the agency considered the community’s stated accessibility needs?
- Unbanked Riders
- How will the service accommodate unbanked individuals (e.g., cash, using vouchers, or pre-paid debit cards)?
Once a microtransit service is implemented, it should be continually evaluated against its goals, objectives, and performance measures to ensure the service is meeting the needs of the community. This feedback loop should be used to modify or expand the service as necessary to meet the community’s needs.
Public Engagement Post-Implementation
Following implementation, engagement can increase transparency in the planning process. At this time, transit agencies are generally focused on customer service, reporting performance metrics, and evaluating the success of the service. Outreach to the public generally consists of customer satisfaction surveys and/or customer trip ratings, which can be used to gauge how well the service is working for its users.
Following implementation, a microtransit service should also be assessed against the established performance measures. Agencies typically monitor a service’s performance on a weekly or monthly basis, and a more thorough assessment of how to address areas of low performance should happen at least annually, if not more frequently. While a new service takes time to build ridership, monitoring performance metrics for trends in the early stages can help an agency establish what specific aspects of the service are working well and what can be improved to enhance the customer experience and increase ridership. Agencies should inquire whether technology vendors provide data dashboards to monitor the service’s performance, possibly even in real time.
Some key takeaways associated with visioning, planning, launching, and monitoring microtransit service include:
- Stakeholder and public engagement should be incorporated into all phases of a microtransit project or service.
- Goals should inform where microtransit zones should be located and how the microtransit service should be designed to serve the community effectively.
- Performance measures should be selected based on and closely related to specific agency goals or objectives. One or more performance measures should be identified for each objective.
- To design a more equitable transit service that increases access for transit-dependent populations, transit agencies should consider how the service will accommodate specific user groups, including but not limited to transit-oriented populations, people with disabilities, and unbanked populations. Federal regulations require a microtransit service to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Accommodating unbanked individuals and those without smartphones is also necessary.
As an agency works through the process of when to implement microtransit (Figure 15), the checklists highlight key questions to be considered at each phase of the process as staff, stakeholders, and the public are engaged.
Figure 15: Process for Deciding When to Implement Microtransit
- What key issues and needs identified by stakeholders and the public could be addressed with microtransit?
- Which benefits of microtransit service are the most pertinent for this community?
- What should the main goal of a microtransit service be in this community?
- Planning and Implementation Education
- Does the proposed service meet the needs of the community?
- Has my organization made it clear how people will be educated about the service and be able to have their questions answered?
- Has my organization publicized information about the service, including the launch date and how to access it?
- Is the service meeting the community’s needs, as expressed through the goals and objectives for the service?
- Is the service producing the desired results with respect to the identified performance metrics?
- Are customers satisfied with the new service type?
The next chapter will guide transit agencies in implementing service, from making a financial plan, to contracting service, to marketing and public education, to launching and refining service.
- Equity and Shared Mobility Services: Working with the Private Sector to Meet Equity Objectives
- Performance Measurement and Evaluation Framework of Public Microtransit Service
- TCRP H-56: Redesigning Transit Networks for the New Mobility Future
- Travel Behavior: Shared Mobility and Transportation Equity