Mixed Fleets: The Future of Microtransit and Paratransit

Nov. 29, 2022
Implementing mixed fleets is integral to rebuilding ridership while keeping rider and transit agency flexibility at the forefront.

Riders around the world change their behaviors and habits around how and when they access public transportation. Whether it's to go to the grocery store, the doctor’s office or run errands, riders want to be able to book a ride that allows them the flexibility to move around rather than fit their schedule around fixed travel options.

This isn’t new: Behaviors even prior to the pandemic showed that riders are opting for ride hailing alternatives for flexible travel. In 2018, the Chicago Transit Authority reported reduced ridership partly due to competition from Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) with 106 million rides equaling 44 percent of bus ridership. TNC vehicles in San Francisco are estimated to contribute to a fifth of local driving miles per day. Research suggests that ride hailing is replacing the use of public transportation, providing plenty of benefits including low wait times and flexibility

Many demand-responsive mobility services offered by transit agencies, such as ADA paratransit or dial a ride services, need to be booked a minimum of 24 hours in advance. This creates limitations for the rider, especially under unpredictable or unplanned circumstances: delayed doctor’s appointments, unanticipated line ups at the grocery store or other events with an unknown duration or end time. 

The rider's need for flexibility arrives at a critical time for public transportation especially when it comes to rebuilding ridership in a post pandemic world; both conventional transit and ride hailing are perceived with skepticism from more than 60 percent of riders.

For transit agencies, limited fleets and driver shortages pose a restriction in providing flexibility. Investing in fleet expansions may not be feasible because vehicles may sit idle when there is low demand from riders.

How can transit agencies evolve to balance rider experience and needs with financial constraints when rebuilding ridership? 

This is where mixed fleets come into play. Mixed fleets, also referred to as intelligent trip brokering, utilize non-dedicated service providers (such as TNCs and taxis) enabling transit agencies to access vehicles which are not part of their own dedicated fleet network. Shifting to mixed fleets provides several benefits including the flexibility to shift and allocate trips to lower cost, non-dedicated providers. 

Trip brokering is directly dependent on what is the most reliable and cost-efficient way to meet rider demand. Similar to microtransit and paratransit services offered by transit agencies, pooling is also possible when appropriate. What previously was considered to be competition to conventional transit is now necessary to provide better rider experience and offer more flexibility to both the rider and the agency. 

McKinney, Texas, Mixed Fleet Model

A prime example of leveraging mixed fleets to evolve with rider demand is Collin County Transit, specifically its operations in McKinney, Texas. 

Located roughly 45 minutes on the outskirts of Dallas, McKinney has consistently been one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. This is easily seen by the sharp increase in rider behavior in the city. Throughout 2022, the number of rides soared from approximately 200 rides per week up to between 750 and 800 rides per week. With such a significant jump in demand, Collin County Transit utilized a flexible solution that would allow it to efficiently service their ridership and their varying needs without too much upfront investment.

Collin County Transit’s McKinney service originally operated with solely dedicated vehicles. One hundred percent of trips were going to dedicated providers, which meant that if there was ever a service interruption or ridership were to surge for whatever reason, Collin County Transit riders had limited options. 

To manage its mixed fleet model, Collin County Transit used transit software provided by Spare to divide rides between its two local dedicated trip providers, Irving Holdings and ECHO, and a non-dedicated fleet provider in Lyft. During the course of the first year of the brokered service, Collin County Transit reduced its share of dedicated trips to 30 percent, with 70 percent being brokered via Lyft. The agency has also benefited from large cost savings: the introduction of Lyft as a mixed fleet provider has slashed the average cost per ride by 47 percent. The savings in cost per trip, as well as the avoidance of upfront costs when needing to expand existing fleets, demonstrates a convenient and tangible solution for both riders and transit agencies. 

This is especially useful when there is a large service area: dedicated vehicles cannot effectively cover vast geographic distances while providing riders with a good experience. Intelligent trip brokering generates more vehicle capacity which means agencies can serve more riders without additional costs or drivers. In the long term, this also reduces the agency’s vehicle requirements and promotes a resilient system that can respond to fluctuating ridership demand.

As illustrated by Collin County Transit’s operations in McKinney, switching to mixed fleets helps transit agencies enhance rider experience. Low wait times, flexible bookings and the freedom to move beyond fixed route transportation provides riders with affordable and more favorable transportation options.


Kristoffer Vik Hansen is the CEO and co-founder of Spare. 

About the Author

Kristoffer Vik Hansen | CEO and Co-Founder, Spare Labs

As Spare’s CEO and co-founder, Kristoffer brings considerable knowledge of data-driven mobility platforms as a lead solution architect to the table. A native of Norway, Kristoffer moved to Canada to pursue his bachelor’s degree in Integrated Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2010. Before starting Spare, he co-founded Awake Labs, a wearable technology company committed to improving the lives of individuals with developmental disorders before shifting gears.