A program in Wilson, NC is attempting to connect public transportation users with more convenient options.
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Shudiara McMillian doesn’t have a car and relies on city transit in Wilson, North Carolina, to get wherever she needs to go, whether it’s to work or shopping or a medical appointment.
Until about two years ago, that could mean a long wait at a bus stop because the city’s buses ran only once an hour. And it often meant riding all around town while the bus picked up and dropped off other passengers before finally getting to her stop.
Now, when McMillian needs transportation, she can book it on an app on her phone, and a Toyota Sienna minivan from the city’s RIDE transit service will pick her up at a nearby location and bring her to her destination.
“It’s given me a lot of freedom to go where I want to go,” said McMillian, 32, an office worker in the city’s utility department. “With RIDE, there might be a pickup or two on the way, but it’s a lot more convenient to book a ride on my phone and get to places faster.”
On-demand public transit, also called microtransit, is becoming increasingly popular across the United States, particularly in small cities, suburbs and rural areas.
Inspired by Uber and Lyft shared-ride services, the idea is to have people request a ride, usually a small van or shuttle, either by using a mobile app or by phone, and pay a small fare. The driver will pick them up, often on a corner or a few blocks away, and drop them off near where they want to go within a designated service boundary. Sometimes, the ride will take them to a fixed bus route or connect them to a central transit station.
Transit agencies say they want to be more flexible and responsive, offering an alternative to riders who may face long bus waits and transfers. They’re also hoping to attract new riders who may not live along bus routes.
“This is trying to make public transit as relevant as possible in communities that just don’t have the ability to provide high-frequency fixed-route service,” said Scott Bogren, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of America, a trade group that represents smaller transit operators.
Critics, supporters debate costs, benefits
But some transit advocates argue that microtransit is a bad deal for public agencies because it’s costly and inefficient. They say transit agencies instead should focus on increasing ridership on their current routes by adding more frequent service and improving bus stops. Read more