You might have heard some buzz that Metro is working to bring a new service known as “MicroTransit” to the region through a pilot program.
What exactly is it? Details are still being worked out — more on that below — but basically MicroTransit is a small vehicle that you can order (like you would a Lyft or Uber) that is not tied to a fixed route or even a fixed schedule. It is on-demand, when you want it, where you want it.
A Metro MicroTransit vehicle, unlike a standard bus, will follow turn-by-turn instructions from a navigation system that uses live traffic conditions and real-time requests for pick-ups and drop-offs to generate the most efficient possible trips for Metro riders. Unlike an Uber or Lyft, trips will be cheaper and designed to integrate with Metro’s larger transit network. Our hypothesis is that incorporating a service like MicroTransit into our wheelhouse could benefit our customers and support our broader mission to improve mobility in Los Angeles County.
Metro is gearing up to receive proposals from potential private sector partners to team up with the agency to design the new service. Metro will ultimately pick a team made up of tech firms, urban planners, and marketers that will work hand-in-hand with the agency to design and run the new service.
The goal of this project for Metro is to determine whether an on-demand service like MicroTransit can provide a convenient new option for our current riders while also encouraging new riders to use the transit system.
Project Manager Rani Narula-Woods from Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation (OEI) is leading the pilot program, along with a team of over 50 individuals from nearly all Metro departments. The MicroTransit Pilot (MTP) is an exciting undertaking as we explore and develop new ways to get around.
We know you probably have some questions…
So is MicroTransit just like Uber or Lyft?
Not exactly. Metro’s MicroTransit will use vehicles that are smaller than a typical 40-foot bus but larger than a five-passenger sedan, so essentially it’s a multi-passenger service. Also, it’s on-demand and not based on advanced scheduling or a fixed schedule with pre-determined stops.
Another feature is that it’s dynamically-routed — meaning the route is based on who is getting picked up and where they’re going within the service area or neighborhood
What will it be like to take Metro’s MicroTransit?
A lot of the details still need to be fleshed out. But there are some likely features. Imagine a transit experience in which you can be picked up and dropped off where you want when you want (called ‘virtual stops’). You will have an option for mobile payment and you can get reliable real-time information on your pick-up and drop-off times.
Maybe you’ll want to use this service to connect to a rail or bus line. Or maybe you’ll find that you can take an entire trip solely using Metro’s MicroTransit. The point is that the new service is flexible and convenient for customers no matter where you’re heading.
How much will riding Metro’s MicroTransit cost?
We don’t know yet. MicroTransit is considered a premium service, so the fare will likely be higher than our regular $1.75 bus or rail fare. But our MicroTransit also will likely be cheaper than a similar ride in a Lyft, Uber, taxis or other private mobility services.
Why not leave on-demand services to those who already provide them? Does Metro really think it can out-Uber Uber or out-Lyft Lyft?
We don’t see Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies as competitors.
There’s a place for private mobility services to operate alongside publicly provided services. We see a new transportation technology that has changed how many people travel, and we owe it to our customers and the taxpayers to be asking whether it, or any new technology, can play a positive role in Metro’s overall service.
We can potentially take advantage of that technology to serve our broader social goals – focusing on pooled rides and connections to other transit, accessibility for passengers with disabilities and service for those without smartphones or bank accounts. Finally, we intend to provide this service using Metro employees, not contract employees.
Where will Metro be testing MicroTransit?
That’s to be determined, based in part on the knowledge and expertise of the team we partner with.
That said, we envision Metro’s MicroTransit could be useful in parts of our region that aren’t quite dense enough to support frequent bus service, or in areas where getting to bus or rail stops can be tricky due to distance or multiple transfers.
We look forward to hearing from firms responding to our request for proposal which is set to be issued on Wednesday, October 25.
Why does Metro want to test MicroTransit?
We’ve seen over the years that bus and rail service can perform quite well in our region — Metro, after all, runs the nation’s third busiest transit system.
But we also recognize that we’re serving a region where the number of people who drive has remained very high over the years — currently about 84 percent of those commuting to work in Los Angeles County. We believe that Metro has an obligation to test new services to give more people more options other than driving and to better connect people to local bus and rail networks.
Keep in mind, too, that advancements in technology — enabled by smart phones and cell coverage — have allowed new mobility services to emerge that meet customers’ needs in ways not previously possible. The MicroTransit Pilot can take advantage of new and emerging technology and connect more people to the investments we’re making in our region’s transit and road system.
But won’t this just take away riders from our buses and rail services?
We don’t think so. Most research indicates MicroTransit has the potential to be complementary to transit.
We are more interested in determining if expanding our menu of options provides improved mobility for our customers, rather than whether it takes away ridership from other modes. If existing riders wind up preferring this service to our other services, that is very useful to know.
What does “success” look like?
Metro is putting this pilot project into place as part of our commitment to innovation and exploration of new ways of doing things.
For us, success looks like learning whether and how customers might use a service like this, what key service design factors matter most to customers and how we can operate in way that is financially sustainable. Answering those questions would be a huge win, as we identify innovative new ideas that help address our most pressing local transportation challenges.
So what makes Metro’s pilot special?
We did a lot of research when preparing this project, and deliberately put the customer experience (user experience) at the forefront of the planning process. MicroTransit has never been delivered by a transit agency on this scale. We spent a lot of hours speaking with a variety of stakeholders — both public and private — and soliciting input because we want to get this right.
How is Metro collaborating with the private sector on this project?
Metro hosted a pre-proposal industry forum to provide potential private sector partners information about the pilot. The industry forum allowed vendors to ask questions directly to Metro staff, provide feedback on the project and network with potential partners to build a team of technologists, planners, and marketers to respond to the solicitation. Over 300 individuals attended from an array of technology, planning, and outreach firms. Participants came from across the globe.
Later this month, on Wednesday, October 25th, Metro will be issuing a solicitation to partner on the design and implementation of the new service. The solicitation is divided into two parts. In part one, the private sector will support Metro with planning and design of the service. In part two, the private sector will help to guide Metro on the implementation and evaluation of the new service.
This approach to contracting is also testing a new way of doing business for the agency. In fact, Metro is utilizing a two-stage public-private contracting model for this pilot to share the risks and rewards with our private partner. We’re also exploring ways to tie compensation for the private sector to performance and service levels of the project.
While Metro certainly will be dealing with some unknowns as we move forward, we’re undaunted by the challenge and excited at the possibilities of this project and what we’ll learn.
A few other details that may interest those curious about the project development side of things:
•Metro’s OEI has visited the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the Alameda Contra Costa Transit District, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in the Bay Area for demonstrations on how these transit agencies piloted and worked with MicroTransit providers.
•OEI’s research team is finalizing a white paper on case studies of public transit agencies who have already piloted MicroTransit. That research about what has worked — and not worked — has informed how Metro approaches the pilot. The Eno Center for Transportation will be publishing it soon.
•OEI also convened its Advisory Board’s Subcommittee on New Mobility, composed of a panel of transportation and innovation experts, to help advise the agency on this project.
•The Metro team looks forward to engaging even more partners in the months ahead to achieve an improved user-experience for current and future Metro riders.
Metro Chief Innovation Officer Joshua Schank will take your questions live on Twitter to discuss the role of user-experience in the future of public transit. Submit your questions now to @LA_CoMotion and join the chat live on LA CoMotion’s Twitter page on Wednesday October 25, 11 a.m. Pacific Time.