June 22, 2020

Public transit is getting the Uber Pool treatment

With ridership down, cities are going all in on microtransit.

Infrastructure pros have a new buzzword: Microtransit.

You can think of “microtransit” as a swankier way of saying “publicly subsidized Uber Pool.” With bus and subway service running on empty because of COVID-19, microtransit projects are revving up.

The Los Angeles Metro system put $29m toward a partnership with RideCo to subsidize transit. Uber just snagged a 3-year contract in Dallas. Salt Lake City and Birmingham are rolling out their own experiments.

Startups like Spare Labs and Optibus — which can route buses in real time based on demand — are hoping to hitch a ride on the microtransit bandwagon.

Honey, I shrunk the metro

Take one example: In Lubbock, Texas, Citibus ridership is down 50% because of the pandemic. The city had to cut service from every 30 minutes to every hour.

Now Lubbock is dabbling with microtransit. Residents can download a  CitiBus On Demand app to hail a ride — it pings one of its fleet of roving vans heading in the general direction. The city promises that each van will arrive in under 10 minutes.

Don’t have a smartphone? You can call instead.

This hype train has been rolling for years

Transit stans point to studies from Boston Consulting Group showing that microtransit projects could cut traffic 15% to 30%.

But Wired recently pumped the brakes on some of their enthusiasm. Microtransit is expensive: During a pilot, the LA Metro spent 2x more on microtransit trips than on regular buses.

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