TX/CA: For Transit Agencies, On-Demand Services Can Fill the Gaps

June 27, 2024
Trinity Metro and SMART are among the latest providers to expand their on-demand services.
Jun. 25—On-demand service has emerged as a key technology innovation for public transit as agencies search for tools to improve efficiency and offer more modern, flexible transportation options.
Trinity Metro, which serves Tarrant County, Texas, and the county seat Fort Worth; and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), which serves California's Marin and Sonoma counties, are among the latest providers to expand their on-demand services. Trinity, which operates a network of buses, trains and vehicles, will expand its ride-sharing ZIPZONE service this summer with on-demand service in the Mansfield area in July; and to Fort Worth's north side, near Tarrant County College, in September.
SMART, a 45-mile commuter rail service across the north side of San Francisco Bay, recently expanded an on-demand shuttle service to include two of SMART's stops, partnering with technology provider The Routing Company (TRC). Riders can use the Ride Pingo app to plan and book trips. On-demand transit, a company official said, is a key ingredient in closing the first- and last-mile gaps between fixed-route assets like a train or bus station, and final destinations.
"On-demand transit is a way to expand the reach of transit cost-effectively, so that productive fixed routes become more reachable and thus can grow ridership," Lindy Norris, vice president for marketing and policy at TRC, said in an email. "Simply put, on-demand transit extends coverage of a transit network."
In Texas, Trinity plans to merge its on-demand ride-share services — which is on-demand transit using small van-like vehicles — with its paratransit operations, an official said, to reduce redundant services.
"Trinity Metro's decision to take transit innovation to the next level underscores our dedication to meeting the evolving needs of our community," Wayne Gensler, Trinity Metro chief operations officer, said in a statement.
Transit agencies of all sizes are exploring new innovations to expand service opportunities and cut costs — a process that began around the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Elliot McFadden, greater Minnesota shared mobility program coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT).
"We're seeing such change, and we really want to see agencies embrace that change," McFadden said during a webinar May 23 on transit's digital transformations. The panel was organized by Optibus, a transit technology provider.
Agencies tend to be re-examining service delivery and "thinking about how people have changed how they move, the times of days they move" — which has led to exploring new and emerging transit models and technologies, he added. The Moving Greater Minnesota Forward shared mobility incubator, a project within the DOT, develops mobility innovations around the needs of rural, tribal and small urban areas.
"We know that traditional public transit is not going to meet all those needs," he said. "And that's part of why we're making these investments, and hopefully see if those can lead to more efficient service delivery."
On-demand transit service, Norris said, can be deployed quickly, and be a nimble alternative to fixed-route services, which can be harder to modify, particularly when they include rail.
"On-demand transit thrives in creating a more integrated network that is more convenient for riders to use. The intention of on-demand transit service," she said, "is to strengthen and fortify existing fixed routes by better utilizing resources — labor, funding and vehicles."


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