How can Microtransit increase public bus utilization?

Posted by Peter Soutter on Jul 5, 2018 2:02:36 PM

A common trend globally is the decline of bus use by the public. There are many reasons for this and nearly as many reports arguing over which factors have the most impact on ridership. Ultimately the nuances of why ridership drops are different for different cities but the main factors are common to all: 

  1. Reduced Service - as routes are cut or services become less frequent the overall transit system has less value for users leading to a drop in ridership. According to new research by McGill University "The more service a transit authority provides (measured as the number of kilometers driven annually by public transit vehicles—VRK), the more transit trips it will attract." The title of their research really says it all "Invest in the Ride"
  2. Online Services - Shopping, Studying, Banking and Working from Home all have a negative effect on bus use. People who shop online regularly use buses 25% less than those who don't shop online, according to a KPMG report on declining bus use in Scotland. Between 2012 and 2015 online services accounted for a drop of 7.3 million rides in Scotland (nearly a 2% decline in overall use). While there are limitations on what a municipality can do to address the rise of the internet, the heart of these behavioral changes is convenience. To minimize the impact of online services transit providers need to make public transit easy.
  3. Ride-hailing - some argue ride-hailing is a substitute for car use however ride-hailing can also have very negative effects on public transit. A survey of ride-hailing passengers in Metro Boston found that 42% of respondents would have taken public transit if they didn't use ride-hailing. An unfortunate follow on from this is that the people opting for ride-hailing are higher income individuals who typically pay full fare on public transit, thus their loss as public transit riders is felt even more acutely. The survey found that users were willing to pay a significant premium for the convenience and predictability of ride-hailing. In this regard one response to the competition from ride-hailing is for transit companies to provide on-demand bus services.
  4. Cost - Petrol, the price of car loans and the cost of bus fares all have effects on service. In the KPMG report, on bus use in Scotland, increased fares led directly to a drop of 4 million journeys (a 1% decline in overall use). When petrol is cheap and access to car loans are easy its vital that the cost of public transit is competitive.
  5. Time - To compete with cars and ridehailing public transport needs to provide short journey times. In Scotland increases in bus journey time led to a drop of 5.9 million journeys (a 1.5% decline in overall use). Buses traveling to empty stops or waiting at a stop to stay on their timetable both add to journey times. Flexible routes and flexible schedules can reduce journey times and increase ridership.

How Microtransit can help

By deploying dynamic on demand buses on low density low frequency routes municipalities can improve the service to users on the route. By using on-demand buses AC Transit in San Francisco were able to increase the frequency of service from 45-60 minutes to providing a bus every 30 minutes. Improved services lead to increased ridership. Microtransit allows municipalities to feed riders into their most serviced routes from low density outlying regions. As mentioned above improvements to the overall reliability of service have been proven to increase ridership. 

App based on demand microtransit can help to make public transport more convenient, addressing some of the issues raised by online services. Because they don't travel to empty stops microtransit bus services can also shorten journey times for riders. Additionally app based microtransit systems can gather far more detailed rider information than traditional mass transit services. This data can be used to improve routing and fleet utilization driving down the cost of service provision and ultimately the cost of a journey (which in turn leads to increased ridership). Finally app based microtransit can offer the same predictability as ride-hailing helping to offer ride-hailing customers a public transport alternative that is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

By running an extensive program of simulations (for more information on the value of simulations see our blog on on-demand simulation) transit providers can work out what routes in their network will benefit most from Microtransit services. Incorporating microtransit into the transport offering of municipalities can and I believe will reverse the trend of declining bus use, providing customers with cheaper faster and more environmentally friendly transport options. 

Feel free to contact us for more specific assistance or book a meeting with one of our microtransit experts to discuss your needs. 


Topics: Micro Transit, Dynamic Shuttle, On-Demand

Written by Peter Soutter