It has been nine months now that Metro and Metrolink patrons have been taking advantage of an on-demand, shared-ride pilot project in three areas across Los Angeles County.
If you haven’t heard of our ongoing partnership with Via, here’s the backstory: The rides are delivered through a federal research grant and a partnership with ride share company Via. The project makes ride-hailing services available to users who would not otherwise have access, like riders who use wheelchairs and riders who don’t have smart phones. It also promotes sustainability and congestion reduction through shared rides and expands the reach of Metro fixed-route services.
The project is an exciting test bed of promising new technology and a collaboration between Metro and the private sector. We’ve seen sustained customer interest, high customer satisfaction and have been able to improve efficiency as more people use the service.
There are also outstanding questions. Have we reached all of our target audiences?
Is there room for growth? How much should Metro should subsidize the service? Can it serve folks that can’t afford or be accommodated by Uber or Lyft? Or discourage car ownership and save people money over that cost? We don’t know the answers — but we see enough value so far that it is worth continuing to test to see how useful a tool this type of service can be.
Below are the specifics on pilot performance so far. We had a slow start, but we picked up momentum to create the beautiful upward trending graphs below:
The El Monte service area is leading the pack, followed closely by North Hollywood. Artesia/ Compton zone has lagged, likely due to the New Blue service closures. Now that the A Line (Blue) is reopened, we hope to see gains.
Rides per driver hour is a key measure of efficiency. Also trending upwards!
We have met all of our performance goals. While the average wait time crept up past the 10-minute target at the end of the third quarter, it had mostly been within the target previously. This highlights the tradeoff between wait time and vehicle efficiency, and Via will continue to adjust the service supply to balance both.
Some other things to chew on:
Seattle system: The Via service in the Seattle area has seen even higher adoption and efficiency with over 7,000 rides per week and over five rides per driver hour. The Seattle area service differs from the LA service in that it additionally runs during evenings and weekends, the rides are provided in a dedicated, branded fleet of vehicles, and the service zones are contiguous for a more efficient operation. We are exploring the possibility of implementing some of these features in a potential second year of the pilot.
Free Transfers: The free transfers that Metro has been offering will remain in effect for the duration of the pilot, which currently runs until the end of January, but we are exploring a second year. It’s a good deal for riders who can transfer from a bus or train to Via for free or pay to take Via to start your trip and transfer to a bus or train for free.
Subsidies: Projects like this one have sometimes been criticized for being expensive and poorly utilized compared to traditional bus services. We view things differently. We know that we have to make transit better to gain more riders. While ride-sharing may not be as efficient as a full-sized bus in a dense neighborhood during peak hours, ride-sharing can be more efficient in spread out neighborhoods, during off hours and to help close first/last mile gaps. Ride share can have much shorter wait times, provide a superior customer experience, and get you to many more destinations.
Reaching hard to reach populations: Requests for wheelchair accessible vehicles continue to account for about 1% of total rides. By comparison, 0.5% of Metro Bus trips are made by people in wheelchairs. A small number of riders are booking Via rides through their call center but we know that many Metro riders do not have access to smartphones. This is an area where with think additional outreach can make a difference. Our research partners are gathering survey data to help us understand who else the project is serving.
Assembly Bill 5 Compliance: You may have heard about a controversial new law that Governor Newsom signed in September. The law known as AB 5 changes the test that determines whether drivers and other workers are employees, and goes into effect as of January 1, 2020. Uber and Lyft have so far taken the position that the law does apply to them, but Metro believes it does. We are updating our contract with Via to require drivers to be employees.
Contract Option: We are coming up on the last few months of the initial year of the pilot, and are looking to negotiate a second year. If all goes well, we’ll bring a recommendation to the Metro Board of Directors for a second year of service in early 2020. We’ll also make suggestions on improving all aspects of the service.
If you haven’t had a chance to ride yet, download the app, or call 833-917-0697 to take a ride in one of the service areas pictured below!
Finally this: We have and will continue to take learnings from this pilot to inform the Metro MicroTransit Pilot that we plan to launch next year. MicroTransit is a bit different — it won’t be anchored to three transit stations but instead will have free-standing zones and will be operated by Metro employees. But it is on-demand, a type of service we believe can serve Metro riders well.