Microtransit ridership growing in two Virginia communities after 18-month pilot

July 12, 2023
DRPT, with partners Bay Transit and Mountain Empire Older Citizens, launched an 18-month pilot in June 2021 that tested rural microtransit services, with the goal of expanding transit access and improving operating efficiencies for transit agencies.

Ridership continues to grow for microtransit services in two Virginia communities (southwest Virginia and Hampton Roads) following the completion of an 18-month pilot that showed the effectiveness of on-demand transit services in rural areas.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) secured a $160,930 grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Integrated Mobility Innovation Program to test rural microtransit services, with the goal of expanding transit access and improving operating efficiencies for transit agencies. DRPT partnered with Bay Transit and Mountain Empire Older Citizens for an 18-month pilot that began in June 2021. Since the conclusion of the pilot, both microtransit services have continued.

Bay Transit Express has its service area in Gloucester County while Mountain Empire Older Citizens operates METGo! in Wise County and the city of Norton. Bay Transit charges $1 for each ride, and Mountain Empire Older Citizens received a $180,000 grant from DRPT for the agency to eliminate its fare collection for at least four years.

“Microtransit provides people with better access to jobs, health care and their communities with efficiency driven by technology,” said DRPT Director Jennifer DeBruhl. “Bay Transit Express and METGo! show on-demand transit can meet the needs of rural communities so that public transportation is serving more Virginians, no matter where they live.”

Over the 18-month period, both services experienced increasing ridership, with Bay Transit Express providing 9,039 trips and METGo! providing 38,996 trips. Most of the riders used the service multiple times a week. During the pilot period, Bay Transit Express expanded its service area, which attracted new riders.

The top destinations for riders were health care facilities, grocery stores and workplaces. DRPT said both services received an overwhelmingly positive response from its riders.

“Microtransit has been a game changer for the communities we serve," said Mitch Elliott, transit director for Mountain Empire Older Citizens. "It truly is the future of rural transportation."

“Bay Transit Express has proven to be a significantly more cost effective and customer satisfying alternative to the deviated fixed routes we used to operate in Gloucester,” said Bay Transit Director Ken Pollock. “We are especially happy the customer experience has been so good. Bay Transit Express riders typically have waiting times of around 10 minutes after hailing a ride, and they can give immediate feedback after their ride through the app. Bay Transit Express riders are awarding us an average of 4.9 stars out of five since the service was launched. With the success we’ve enjoyed in Gloucester County, we are beginning to explore replacing deviated fixed-route services in Tappahannock and West Point with Bay Transit Express.”

Several transit agencies across the Commonwealth have launched or shown interest in adding microtransit to their communities. Hampton Roads Transit has deployed microtransit services, Greater Richmond Transit Company and Charlottesville Area Transit are preparing to do so later this year and the Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation is conducting a microtransit feasibility study.