Navigant Research Blog

Market Solutions for Transit Deserts

William Drier — September 14, 2017

When discussing new disruptive mobility solutions, comments on their effects on public transportation are often not far behind. Many believe that public transportation cannot compete with the convenient, on-demand, door-to-door service offered by transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Lyft and Uber. Some see TNCs and other mobility services as poaching transit riders. Others view these solutions as complementary to public transportation as they provide services to unaddressed transit deserts or other underserved communities.

Two areas that provide opportunity for growth for TNCs—and an opportunity to support public transit operations—are transit desert services and first and last mile (a term used to describe the portion of a commuter’s trip between their place of origin and where they connect with a mode of public transportation). A few pilot programs demonstrate their potential and provide insight into how best to execute these services.

Centennial/Lyft Pilot Program

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver has had great success in providing public transit services throughout the region. RTD has launched three rail lines and one bus rapid transit line in the past 2 years and is expecting to open a fourth rail line before the end of 2017.

To provide a solution to a lack of connectivity and decrease single occupancy vehicle trips, the City of Centennial partnered with Lyft for a 6-month pilot program that provided Lyft Line rides free of charge to and from the Dry Creek light rail station within the existing RTD Call-n-Ride service area. Centennial subsidized these rides and service was exclusively offered through Lyft. While the program duration was short and had underwhelming ridership, results suggest that mobility solutions provided by companies may work as a supplement to existing transit services.

Lyft Shuttle and Ford Chariot

Recognizing that many of the rides given between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. are for work commutes, Lyft now offers a new pilot service in Chicago called Lyft Shuttle. Looking at trip data, Lyft identified common travel routes that exist in transit deserts, then created fixed routes where riders could reserve a seat via the app and walk to designated pick-up locations to catch a shared ride at a reduced cost compared to a Lyft or Lyft Line.

In 2016, Ford acquired the San Francisco-based startup Chariot. Chariot offers a service similar to Lyft Shuttle. Riders can reserve a seat on a Chariot shuttle via the Chariot app and travel along fixed routes in transit deserts in select cities. Chariot’s business model is unique in that any community can crowdsource interest in a Chariot route by having 50 individuals express interest in using a route if it was offered by the app.

Automated Transit Networks

Automated transit network (ATN) is a catchall term for self-driving shuttles, and there are several existing electric ATN pilot programs around the world. These automated services run on predetermined routes and carry anywhere from 4 to 24 passengers at a time. Notable ATN systems include 2getthere, Vectus, Modutram, and Ultra.

ATNs can provide users with an automated, high frequency mobility solution along fixed routes. Existing ATNs provide services for universities, hospitals, business parks, and airports, but other services have been speculated, such as replacing costly public transit infrastructure or filling in gaps in transit services.

Several factors are creating opportunities for a shift in the classic paradigm of private automobile ownership. As increasing urban density and traffic congestion drive consumers to look for new alternatives, companies are racing to provide them with new mobility services. The services mentioned above are just some of the market disruptors responding to this shift.

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