November 1, 2018

“One of the best ideas in the history of transportation”

More common sense from Jarrett Walker.  In The Atlantic:

Microtransit, or “Uber for public transit,” as some advocates call it, is a new name for an old idea: “dial-a-ride,” or demand-responsive transit. A van roams in a neighborhood….

Superficially, it might seem that offering riders a more convenient service—especially one that comes directly to their door—would increase ridership. And for individual riders who don’t use buses or rail for whatever reason, it might. But for a municipality with a fixed budget for service, shifting resources from fixed routes to microtransit is a way of lowering ridership overall, not increasing it. …


If cities want to move people faster than walking while allowing them to take up only their fair share of space, two options arise. One is to use a vehicle that’s not much bigger than the human body, such as bicycles and scooters. Those tools work well for certain people in particular circumstances, but not for everyone. The other option is to share the ride in a vehicle. If space is really scarce, that vehicle will have to carry lots of people. In most cases, riders will have to share a vehicle with strangers, people who are not traveling for the same purposes or even to the same places. That’s what public transit is.

Fixed public transit deploys large vehicles flowing along a set path, and riders gathering at stops to use them. That way, the vehicles can follow a fairly straight line, and they don’t need to stop once for every customer. That is what makes them worth walking to get to. It is one of the best ideas in the history of transportation.

… most U.S. cities have a large unmet demand for frequent bus service, which is why cities investing in more frequent service have seen ridership rise. Outside the largest metro areas, you can also verify this fact by comparing your city to the most similar one in Canada. There, you’ll usually find much more bus service in a city that looks a lot like yours, with rider numbers that are higher than your city’s and growing faster. Fewer people are forced to drive in those cities, too. Americans could share that benefit, and without the need for technology. Just run as much bus service as Canada does, and demand that it have the priority it needs to succeed. …

The technology industry’s marketers can mix these issues together, dangling an electric, autonomous future before the citizenry, but if their vision hasn’t solved the problem of sharing space, it is not a vision of a functional, inclusive city. They will try everything else first, but in the end, the only solution will be the bus.

Full article here.


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