Even with amended service, one wondered whether ridership would return to pre-pandemic levels on a regular basis.
How will public transportation recover after the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Around the world, people were told to stay away from the office and work from home. Because of the loss of passengers due to these directives, public transport systems had to reduce service to meet the loss of demand.
As the pandemic continued and some restrictions were lifted, the scramble to meet renewed demand never materialized as quickly as one thought. Even with amended service, one wondered whether ridership would return to pre-pandemic levels on a regular basis.
The pandemic exposed a lot of things across society. Without unpacking any of them, there is a need for safer communities and neighborhoods. In the case of neighborhoods underserved by public transportation, that would mean a change from making bus and rail stops more convenient to riders to making service more convenient closer to their doorstep.
For many years, older and disabled transit riders were able to utilize a door-to-door service that was customized to their schedule. Whether it is by a car or a van-based bus, dial-a-ride passengers were able to arrange service to go to doctor’s appointments or the grocery store – and back. It is a service that continues to work.
What about everyone else?
On-demand rideshare services using vans and van-based buses – known as microtransit – are stopping to pop up across North America. The twist is that these smaller transit vehicles will operate in specific service areas to connect with scheduled transit services or to door-to-door to meet a rider’s needs.
I first learned of this service as the Los Angeles’ Metro system (the successor of the old RTD) rolled out their Metro Micro service in a few parts of the city. There are now eight service zones where Metro Micro operate vans for their passengers across Los Angeles County.
To arrange a ride, Metro Micro passengers would have to download an app on their phone and make ride arrangements there. Rides must be within the service area where they live and are available during days of the week within a timeframe of service availability.
Fares run just a dollar – for now. Metro wants to make sure that their Micro service is sustainable and fit within their future transit plans. It is a way to add an option for riders to use public transit in a safer manner that literally closer to home. No more walks to the bus stops or train stations where crime can be a corner away from your doorstep. At least, that’s the idea…
Following in the footsteps of Los Angeles is the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit. They just announced their service for North Minneapolis simply called Micro.
It works exactly the same as Metro Micro in Los Angeles – using the Metro Transit app to hail rides within the service area. However, they are also charging the same fares as regular transit service, but offer free transfers to fixed line bus and rail services.
Microtransit services are also operating in other metropolitan areas. The oldest service is operating within the city of Arlington, Texas. Started in 2017, the city replaced fixed route busses with microtransit with great results. RideKC started service on the Kansas side of the metro area in their latest efforts to provide more service to those communities. These are just a couple of examples of microtransit projects that hope to change people’s perceptions of public transportation in a post-pandemic world.
Another solution in place here in the Twin Cities is getting renewed interest. Daimler AG’s car2go used to do curbside carshare in select service areas some years ago. When that service folded, carsharing started to decline with many providers following car2go out of town.
The folks at HourCar came up with a similar solution. Why don’t they bring back the car2go curbside carsharing model using electric vehicles?
Through a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt EVs, Evie began to bring sustainable self-transportation closer to the people that need it. HourCar set up a specific territory in Minneapolis and Saint Paul where subscribers can reserve vehicles through the app and take them anywhere they need to go. That is, as long as they return the Bolt EV back into the designated territory.
Part of the Evie program is the EV Spot Network of curbside EV chargers. This way, they can help enable residents with EVs to charge up in the neighborhood. These chargers can be found in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Combined, Evie and the EV Spot Network brings back a door-to-destination approach where you have access to a vehicle in your neighborhood – rather, on your block – when you are unable to afford to buy one. In this case, an electric vehicle that promotes sustainable transportation while instilling mobility.
Between microtransit and a more localized car sharing approach, mobility needs to pivot towards increased access to the masses. Otherwise, we will all miss the bus, train, or any way to get back and forth from home.
Cover photo by Randy Stern