The last mile problem relates to the difficulty of getting people from transport hubs, like railway and bus stations, to their homes in a timely and cost efficient manner. Simply put train lines and bus routes do not run directly to each and every persons home. If the means of getting from the transport hub to their homes are too onerous people will choose private transport. This is the last mile problem as it relates to transit agencies. In this blog we'll look at how microtransit can alleviate the last mile problem.
Door to Door vs Transfers
People hate transferring! People like direct door to door transport that is simple, reliable and fast. So why isn't everyone driving or getting cabs? The answer is either price or speed or a combination of both. Transferring introduces uncertainty into a trip. Your arrival at the transfer point is dependent on the system schedules and you cannot necessarily minimize the transfer wait. The second vehicle introduces an additional chance to be impacted by unreliable service. To offset the uncertainty and delays inherent in transferring there must be a pay-off for the traveler. Perhaps the transfer is to a rail line that significantly reduces the transit time in comparison to other transport options. Perhaps the transfer is to a bus line that is appreciably cheaper than driving or taking a cab. The better the pay-off in speed or price the more willing people are to endure the onerousness of transferring.
How microtransit can help with Last Mile Problems?
As noted above if the cost is significantly lower or the journey time is significantly faster people will overcome their aversion to transfers and use public transit. Traditionally transit providers have looked to increase the speed of service or reduce the cost of service traveling from the main transit hub to the riders’ destination. Where microtransit can help is in reducing the cost and the increasing the speed of the first/last mile leg of the trip, from the riders’ home to the transit hub. It does so in the following ways:
- The on-demand nature of microtransit is such that journey times are significantly shorter - buses don't travel to empty stops or wait at stops to stick to a timetable.
- Microtransit provides a flexible route within a specified transit zone so buses can drop riders to their door rather than at a distant stop.
- Riders book their journeys via an app that provides a guaranteed arrival time and allows them to track their bus as its on route to them. This takes out the reliability issue that often afflicts the last mile of service.
- On-demand buses tend to be smaller as they can anticipate demand better than traditional buses. Because they only travel to stops with customers these buses are significantly more cost effective than traditional buses used in last mile services.
- The cost effectiveness of microtransit allows for more frequent service which makes journey times faster and the service more reliable for riders.
When can microtransit address the last mile problem?
Over 60% of person trips in the United States, according to the last National Household Travel Survey, are less than 5 miles in length. For very short journeys it is unlikely services requiring last mile connections to transit hubs will be appealing, in comparison to personal transit options. Certainly an effective on-demand service can make these shorter trips more appealing but where microtransit really delivers is for trips which are over the 5 mile threshold. When the customer has a long journey to make, and microtransit can reliably, cheaply and quickly deliver the customer to a transit hub, customer uptake of the service is high.
Apart from journey length other variables like the quality of the service at the transit hub, the level of car ownership in the service area, the level of traffic congestion for private vehicles along the main transit routes and the cost/availability of parking at the customers destinations can all effect uptake of microtransit services and the effectiveness of these services in addressing the last mile problem.
It should be noted that the traits of the last mile problem, a low density of riders leading to reduced service levels which in turn reduce ridership even further, occur in other circumstances and microtransit can provide a solution to these challenges also. For instance paratransit services or late night services can both benefit from app based microtransit. The capacity of on-demand services to improve fleet utilization in low density areas or for low density times or services makes microtransit a viable solution to many of the biggest challenges facing transit agencies today.
Microtranist is not a silver bullet for the last mile problem. It can however solve the last mile problem in the right circumstances. To check if your circumstances suit a microtransit solution it is vital simulations and pilots are set up beforehand. Simulations should cover a range of ridership scenarios and provide data on average and maximum journey times. (To see what other criteria your simulations should cover check out our blog on Using Simulators effectively). Pilots must be set up with flexibility so that they can be adapted to local conditions to maximise the value and effectiveness of microtransit services. Ultimately on-demand microtransit can deliver increased ridership at a lower cost for transit agencies but only in the right circumstances.