What is “Microtransit” For?

What is “Microtransit” For?

This article is specifically about flexible transit, AKA microtransit, offered as part of a publicly-funded transit network. There may be all kinds of private-sector markets — paid for by institutions or by riders at market-rate fares — which are not my subject here. The question here is what kind of service taxpayers should pay for.

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This article is specifically about flexible transit, AKA microtransit, offered as part of a publicly-funded transit network. There may be all kinds of private-sector markets — paid for by institutions or by riders at market-rate fares — which are not my subject here. The question here is what kind of service taxpayers should pay for.

Flexible transit means any transit service where the route varies according to who requests it. As such it’s the opposite of fixed transit or fixed routes. But the common terms demand responsive transit, on-demand transit and “microtransit” mean the same thing.

Contrary to almost all “microtransit” marketing, ridership is the death of flexible service. Suppose that flexible service was so attractive that many people began calling it. Then the flexible route van would be expected to go to every neighborhood every hour, which is impossible. So more vans would have to be added, still at a very high cost/rider. This process would devour the limited coverage budgets of most agencies, and if those agencies haven’t established a clear limit on what they’ll spend on coverage service, this process can start threatening high-ridership service. At that point, someone should ask: If you end up deleting a bus carrying 30 people/hour so that you can run a van for 3 people/hour, aren’t you basically telling 27 people/hour to buy cars? When flexible services become too popular, they have to be turned back into fixed routes.

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