Microtransit: On-Demand and Open to All
- Author: Rich Weaver
- Date: November 26, 2019
Changing travel behavior and customer expectations are some of the main factors driving rapid innovation in the mobility ecosystem. Throughout…
Over the past ten years, The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) has used the principles of mobility management to coordinate transportation and focus its efforts on implementing customer-centered solutions that simplify travel by public transit for the bi-state area. This has enabled the agency to transform itself from a transit authority to a comprehensive mobility authority. NCMM was in the city September 11-13 to witness the benefits of this transformation firsthand at the MW/SW Transit Conference.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) is a bi-state agency created by the states of Missouri and Kansas with the responsibilities of planning, constructing, owning and operating of passenger transportation systems and facilities within the seven-county Kansas City metropolitan area. With a broad mandate and an opportunity to affect transportation in a large area, KCATA began to adopt the principles of mobility management in the early 2010s to connect people with opportunities throughout the region. Initial efforts focused on identifying all the mobility services available in the bi-state area, including existing services that were not necessarily delivered by public transportation providers. As a part of this work, KCATA actively sought partnerships with community stakeholders to coordinate transportation. Throughout this process, KCATA has maintained a laser focus on the needs of the customer.
The mobility management approach expands the traditional focus of transit agencies to prioritize working with communities, the private sector, and other public agencies to shape the new mobility landscape in the city. Using this approach, KCATA has sought to create synergies between transit and other resources in the community. They have found strong partners in the Mid-America Regional Council (the local MPO), the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and local private transportation providers.
The first step towards integrating a mobility management approach to their transit operations consisted of KCATA forming the Regional Transit Coordinating Council. KCATA has worked with the MPO throughout the planning process. This partnership has been successful in part through the creation of an aligned vision outlined in the Smart Moves 3.0 plan to advance mobility in the region. By bringing decision-makers together across communities, such as elected officials and county and city managers, KCATA was able to facilitate access to mobility systems not just in Kansas City, but across the region.
One example of this is KCATA’s creation of a regional eligibility process to apply for ADA paratransit and taxi voucher programs. This new program replaced the three different processes that existed before, while also turning the four different call centers were into one access point so that people can book paratransit trips or get fixed route information for any service in the same place. Today, these efforts have expanded to the innovative RideKC Freedom program, which offers on-demand ride-hailing services to KC residents of all abilities.
More recent efforts have seen KCATA collaborate with local non-profit agencies to support areas such as health, education, or homelessness in the region. Through the Opportunity Pass Program, KCATA offers employees and beneficiaries of social net programs free transit to jobs, homeless shelters, or hospitals. This partnership builds upon the work the agency has done to provide free bus rides for veterans.
KCATA’s first step towards a customer-centric approach began in 2013 when the agency hired a full-time mobility manager to focus on older adults and individuals with disabilities. Over time, the agency embraced mobility management by expanding its customer-centric approach to the rest of the agency’s user groups. To better understand their customer’s needs and how to approach them, KCATA formed consumer panels to build qualitative and psychographic profiles for both current and potential riders. These groups have enabled the agency to design services that better align with customers’ needs and improve their targeted marketing for specific customer groups. What’s more, the agency worked with its peer transit agencies in the Kansas metro area to create a single RideKC brand in 2015. Buses were rebranded and a regional map was created to show where and how the systems connected. A single website was developed for information about schedules, routes, and fares; and new, easy-to-navigate transit schedules and new RideKC bus stop signs were launched, unifying the transit service for customers across the region.
KCATA’s collaborative approach with new mobility partners is in stark contrast to many of its peer agencies. KCATA has embraced these new options and has launched several initiatives to complement transit services and offer more mobility options, such as a vanpool program for commuters. Today, the agency is innovating by becoming the first transit operator to work directly with a micromobility provider to expand the agency’s mobility footprint through the inclusion of electric-assist bikes and e-scooters. What’s more, the agency is encouraging multi-modal trips by selling a new combined Bike+Bus Pass. CEO Robbie Makinen said that the addition of bikes and scooters to RideKC is “good news for consumers. We understand that people want the freedom to choose how they get around. Now they have more choices than ever…”
Enabling better choices through mobility management
As the transportation landscape shifts in communities across the country, it is becoming increasingly necessary for transit agencies to respond to the shifting needs of their customers and to seek out partnerships with community stakeholders. KCATA’s efforts embody this spirit by working on initiatives that not always increase ridership but connect people with opportunities and improve access in the first/last mile. Instead of competing with other transportation providers, KCATA is realizing its role as a linkage to health, education, and employment for residents through collaboration with other actors in these sectors to multiply the value of those services. The successes already seen by KCATA show that transit agencies can and should work together with communities, the private sector, and other public agencies to respond to the mobility needs of citizens in their city.
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