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The Evolution of Public Transit: AV Microtransit

AVs, which are reaching full maturity, will be key to expanding on-demand transit service while maintaining costs at a manageable level.

A graphic showing arrows coming from May Mobility's Toyota Sienna autonomous vehicle that point to grocery store, lamp, and hospital icons

by Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Strategy Analyst, May Mobility

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are the next and most sustainable form of Microtransit.

While most known for buses and trains, many transit agencies are exploring how to incorporate on-demand Microtransit services into their offerings. However, driver shortages and low capacities per vehicle can make on-demand service a challenging investment, especially at scale. AVs, which are reaching full maturity, will be key to expanding on-demand transit service while maintaining costs at a manageable level.

What is Microtransit?

Microtransit is an updated form of shared, on-demand public transportation that uses an app to book rides in selected service zones. The zones are designated by a transit agency, often where buses are challenged. Services are provided within the zone and to/from major transit lines, and typically use minivans or large vans that are big enough to share and small enough to be used in residential neighborhoods. Trip brokering is managed dynamically through an app (or call center) and software that optimizes routing, pick-ups and drop-offs with the goal of keeping waiting times and trips short, balanced with encouraging ride-sharing.

Who is implementing Microtransit and why?

Of the top 100 U.S. Transit Agencies by ridership, over 60 have one or more Microtransit zones and 15 more are planning for it. Microtransit improves access to mobility in low coverage areas, enhances fixed-line bus and rails networks by increasing access and convenience, and has the potential to replace low-performing bus routes in lower-density areas. Riders also prefer more convenience. Microtransit will be an important gateway for many in the community to start to use public transit of all modes.

An illustration of May Mobility's Toyota Sienna accessing office buildings, hospitals, grocery stores, and other public spaces.

Challenges

On-demand service is not a cure-all. Anywhere-to-anywhere mobility as offered by Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber or Lyft, may reduce the need to own a car, parking infrastructure, etc.; but it’s very likely to increase vehicle miles traveled, road usage and congestion. Sharing rides is the key to reducing these and creating more sustainable transit. In urban areas, fixed-route buses can carry more people per hour and are essential in high-density areas. Microtransit balances convenience and shared rides.

Looking Ahead

The ideal shared “Mobility as a Service” systems of the future will be a healthy mix of fixed routes that serve downtown areas and “ridership” corridors, while on-demand Microtransit will provide services where and when buses are most challenged. As autonomous vehicles reduce the cost of shared transportation, the number of buses and on-demand vehicles can increase, exponentially expanding the usefulness of mobility networks. This makes it easier for individuals to not own a car, incentivizes high-density living and reduces the impacts on the environment and climate. May Mobility is dedicated to transforming cities and is a proud ally of transit agencies, policy makers and transit riders in creating an environment for a thriving planet and humanity!

A photo of May Mobility team member Sarah Gryniewicz

About the Author

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz is a senior strategy analyst at May Mobility. She focuses on how autonomous vehicles can complement Public Transportation and achieve an equitable and sustainable mobility environment for all members of society. Sarah worked for several years in public transit Southeastern Michigan in strategy leadership, organizational development, and community engagement. Through her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin, West Africa, she became passionate about infrastructure and “community of place.” She has a BA in History and Economics from the University of Michigan and a Masters of Regional Planning from Cornell University.

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