October 2021 Tech Updates
- Author: Kevin Chambers
- Date: October 31, 2021
News of large-scale investments in zero-emission transit keeps rolling in. Meanwhile, scrutiny of Uber, Lyft, and Tesla’s AV features continues.…
Similar to ridesharing, microtransit offers on-demand transportation to riders by leveraging transit agencies’ fleets of buses, vans, and other vehicles to provide dynamic route services.
This model helps address some of the first- and last-mile issues that affect many public transit systems, while also reducing traffic congestion and providing riders with more efficient and accessible transportation options.
In Summit County, Utah, a largely rural and mountainous area, a recently launched public transit system called High Valley Transit (HVT) is utilizing technology powered by on-demand transportation company Via Transportation to provide riders with streamlined access to their final destinations. Although the county was originally covered by Park City Transit, the city’s rapid growth over the past several decades necessitated the creation of a more Summit County-focused transit service.
The multi-phase rollout of HVT—which includes micro, paratransit, and fixed-route services—began in May with the introduction of the county’s microtransit system. The service, known as “Micro,” allows residents to request on-demand rides in shared vans. To use the free service, local riders simply download an app, add in their destination, and then meet the van at a nearby pickup location. Via’s algorithm then runs through a host of varying factors to determine if it’s more efficient for riders to be taken on an origin-to-destination trip or to a fixed-route stop.
Since Micro’s launch happened before the rollout of HVT’s traditional fixed-route bus service, all microtransit rides were initially origin-to-destination. Now that the fixed-route system is operational, the algorithm that powers Micro will help determine the most efficient trips for riders. The dynamic transportation model allows for other mitigating factors—such as vehicle destination and weather conditions—to help guide riders’ trips. A snow storm, for example, would result in the microtransit service taking a rider to their final destination, while an out of the way trip that’s otherwise more accessible through existing public transportation alternatives would likely result in a passenger being dropped off at a fixed-route stop.
“There was some initial hesitancy because people didn’t totally understand what microtransit was or how it could work,” said Caroline Rodriguez, HVT’s Acting General Manager. “It might seem like sending a vehicle close to someone instead of using a fixed-route would be inefficient. But because computers are so much smarter than us, it’s actually increased efficiency and decreased our costs quite a bit.”
HVT’s Micro service maintains a focus on passenger safety, with van drivers going through the same background screening processes as fixed-route bus drivers and the vehicles including partitions and cameras. The multi-colored black, purple, and light blue microtransit vans utilized by HVT also look the same for both general public passengers and paratransit riders, extending a sense of normalcy to all users regardless of their ability. And while Micro’s algorithm makes determinations for most riders’ trips, passengers headed to Quinn’s Junction in Park City—where a hospital and other major medical complexes are located—all receive origin-to-destination rides. Despite being located outside of HVT’s district boundary, Rodriguez said the microtransit system takes passengers there as a matter of good community policy.
Rodriguez said that Micro’s utilization is already higher than the transit system was aiming for by the end of the year and that they are already looking into expanding their fleet of microtransit vehicles. Publicly available data on HVT’s website show that Micro carried 6,318 passengers in June, with 55 of the riders reportedly using the service 20 or more times.
HVT’s multi-pronged approach to mobility, including the use of Via’s algorithm to guide the microtransit system’s dynamic model, can serve as a model for other public transit agencies that are looking to provide their residents with on-demand public transportation services. Alex Lavoie, Via’s U.S. Head of Operations, noted that High Valley Transit’s service “will connect more riders than ever to public transit in an innovative, efficient, and equitable way, and will provide a convenient alternative to private vehicle use.”
“The collaboration between Via and the HVT team—from network design through service launch—demonstrates how best-in-class technology can serve community needs using a mix of on-demand and fixed-route transit options,” Lavoie added.
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