The growth of app-based mobility services is changing the way individuals move around their communities. At a time when transit ridership is falling and large infrastructure investments are challenging, cities are turning to new technologies to improve public transportation and increase economic mobility. As Joshua Schank, the head of LA Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation put it recently: “We can’t sit idly by and see new technologies come and go without trying to figure out how they fit into the public transit landscape.”
Through a variety of models, cities and transit agencies have begun to partner with technology companies to improve transportation and cut costs. In recent months, Via has launched a number of partnerships aimed at tackling different problems through the efficient sharing of vehicles that are dynamically routed in real time:
Improving underperforming bus routes and paratransit: In partnership with Austin’s transit agency, CapMetro, Via launched Pickup, a service providing on-demand, dynamically routed shuttles in the northeast part of the city. CapMetro uses its own buses and drivers, along with Via’s technology, to transport Austinites who request rides on their smartphones (or who call in) anywhere in the service area. The shuttles are wheelchair accessible and had previously been used as a dial-a-ride service.
Solving the first/last-mile problem: In the UK, Via has partnered with Arriva, an international operator of public transit, to launch ArrivaClick. The service provides on-demand, dynamic shuttles in and around the town of Sittingbourne making it easy and affordable for commuters to get to the city’s rail station and from the rail station to major employment centers in the area.
Creating new public transportation options: In two cities – West Sacramento, CA, and Arlington, TX – Via will soon launch a comprehensive on-demand public transit solution, financed by public funds. Via will be working closely with the cities to develop and customize every aspect of the services, from operating hours and service zones to fare structure and wheelchair accessibility, and will share data with the cities to help inform future planning and investments.
We are learning important lessons from these partnerships, as are the cities, about how to communicate and work together effectively, share and interpret actionable data to inform future transportation decisions, and design a service (and make adjustments as necessary) that residents are excited to use. We know this work can pay off – in Austin, TX, for example, the ridership numbers exceeded those of the previous service within days of our CapMetro partnership launching.
Successful partnerships between cities and technology companies are not only important to improving transportation and economic mobility in our communities today. They also will help prepare cities for the eventual deployment of electric, autonomous vehicles as a shared, public resource.