Why “microtransit” won’t work for Hazelwood

Image from Jarrett Walker’s blog, Human Transit

In his recent article “What is “Microtransit” For?”, transit expert Jarrett Walker breaks down what “Microtransit” is and where it is successful. “Microtransit” a current fad in tech-based mobility solutions and cities across the nation are putting tons of public money into them instead of building out their public transit systems. Unfortunately (and perhaps unsurprisingly) the City of Pittsburgh is following in suit.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is currently proposing such a “microtransit” shuttle to link Hazelwood Green to the Universities in Oakland. The project will build a roadway for motorized transportation to run through Schenley Park at a remarkable cost of $23Million of taxpayer money. DOMI says that the microtransit shuttle will carry 1,244 passengers on day one – meaning a shuttle driving through Schenley Park every 5-10 minutes. What’s worst, DOMI has even admitted that the microtransit shuttle is a short-term solution and will be unable to meet the demand that they project.

Jarrett Walker’s blog underscores the points that PPT and residents of these neighborhoods have been saying all along:

Any Mon-Oakland Connector project that focuses on micro/on-demand/autonomous shuttles could never, in any scenario, be the most efficient or viable solution for improving mobility for the Hazelwood neighborhood and the developing Hazelwood Green site.

From Walker’s post:

“…contrary to almost all “microtransit” marketing, [high] ridership is the death of flexible service.”, says Walker.

“[On-demand microtransit] one tool for providing lifeline access to hard-to-serve areas, where availability, not ridership, is the point.”

Yet that’s not the reality of Hazelwood and Oakland. These are dense neighborhoods in the middle of a strong public transit network with high existing ridership. Questions aside about the feasibility of driverless tech, the sustainability of increasing pavement above a stormwater-prone neighborhood, or the transparency of a public process that has ignored the input of residents; Jarret Walker shows that DOMI’s math just doesn’t check out.

Any Hazelwood mobility solution that relies on shuttle service over buses will be a complete failure for residents and commuters – and one that would cost city tax-payers $Millions of public dollars.

The answer for improved mobility in Hazelwood is to invest those dollars in better fixed-route public transit. Expanding service hours on the 93 or modifying routes like the 58 or 75 would do much more for connecting residents of Hazelwood to the entire region, as well as connecting the region back to Hazelwood.

These are all transit solutions that are within reason, with technology that is available to us now. PPT is currently working with residents of Hazelwood, Greenfield, Panther Hollow, and the Run to build a grassroots proposal of solutions that can be implemented & successful TOMORROW instead of one that leans on experimental, non-existent technology.

Stay tuned to see what comes of this organizing. And if you live in any communities that would be affected by the Mon Oakland Connector, EMAIL US TO GET INVOLVED.

“What is “Microtransit” For?”

Post by Jarrett Walker on his blog, Human Transit.

In last year’s “microtransit week” series, I challenged the widely promoted notion that “new” flexible transit models, where the route of a vehicle varies according to who requests it, are transforming the nature of transit, and that transit agencies should be focusing a lot of energy on figuring out how to use these exciting tools. In this piece, I address a more practical question:  In what cases, and for what purposes, should flexible transit be considered as part of a transit network?

For clickbait purposes I used “microtransit” in the headline, but now that I have your attention I’ll use flexible transit, since it seems to be the most descriptive and least misleading term.  Flexible transit means any transit service where the route vary according to who requests it.  As such it’s the opposite of fixed transit or fixed routes.  But the common terms demand responsive transiton-demand transit and “microtransit” mean the same thing.

This article is specifically about flexible transit offered as part of a publicly-funded transit network.  There may be all kinds of private-sector markets — paid for by institutions or by riders at market-rate fares — which are not my subject here.  The question here is what kind of service taxpayers should pay for.

As I reviewed in the series, the mathematical and historical facts are that:

• Flexible transit is an old idea, and has long been in use throughout the world.  No living person should be claiming to have invented it.  The only new innovation is the software and communications tools for summoning and dispatching service. You can now summon service on relatively short notice, compared to old phone-based and manually dispatched systems that only guaranteed you service if you called the day before.

• The efficiency of summoning and dispatching has done very little for the efficiency of operations. Flexible transit services have a very high operating cost per rider, and always will, for geometric reasons that no communications technology will change. Flexible services meander in order to protect customers from having to walk. Meandering consumes more time than running straight, and it’s less likely to be useful to people riding through.  Fixed routes are more efficient because customers walk to the route and gather at a few stops, so that the transit vehicle can go in a relatively straight line that more people are likely to find useful.

• There is no particular efficiency in the fact that flexible transit vehicles are smaller than most fixed route buses, because operating cost is mostly labor. You can of course create savings by paying drivers less than transit agencies do, but you will get what you pay for in terms of service quality.

• How inefficient are flexible services? While there are some rare exceptions in rare situations, few carry more than five customers per driver hour.  Even in suburban settings, fixed route buses rarely get less than 10, and frequent attractive fixed route services usually do better than 20.

• Therefore, flexible transit makes sense only if ridership is not the primary goal of a service. “

Read Jarrett Walker’s full post here.