Artwork for podcast Storylines
06. Microtransit: the next chapter of on-demand transportation
Episode 620th January 2022 • Storylines • Valley Metro
00:00:00 00:40:06

Share Episode

Shownotes

What is microtransit, and is it coming to a neighborhood near you? Hear more about this new form of on-demand transportation and what Valley Metro is doing behind the scenes to bring it to you. Listen in as Brittany and Madeline sit down with Matt Dudley, Transit Manager for city of Avondale, and Aaron Xaevier, Service Planner with Valley Metro, to discuss microtransit.

Transcripts

Brittany:

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your daily commute?

Madeline:

Or how transportation impacts the community you call home?

Brittany:

Maybe you want to explore outside your community and don't know where to start.

Madeline:

Well, you're in luck because this is where you hop on.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany Hoffman.

Madeline:

And I'm Madeline Phipps.

Brittany:

We work in communications for Valley Metro and together we'll discover all the ways that public transit enhances lives across the cities we serve.

Madeline:

And we might even make some new friends along the way.

Brittany:

Welcome to Storylines.

Brittany:

Maddie. When people think Valley Metro, they mostly think bus and rail, which obviously those are big workhorses, but that's not all we do. We have Paratransit for our ADA community and seniors. We have RideChoice. We have our vanpool program.

We have an entire department dedicated to sharing the ride and getting people out of their single occupancy vehicles. It's important. Transit is important.

Madeline:

Okay. That's a great list, but guess what? There's something you didn't mention that's on the horizon.

Brittany:

What is it Maddie?

Madeline:

Microtransit!

Brittany:

Oh my goodness! How could I forget?

Madeline:

Okay. That doesn't mean tiny little vehicles with like mice driving them.

Brittany:

No, and it's not Flintstones status either where we're running with our bare feet, like Barney Rubble down the road. Microtransit is going to be huge in the Valley. But it takes a small area of space to run it in, right?

Madeline:

Right. So microtransit is like a type of ridesharing and the cynic in me, every time I've heard about it and wants to say “Okay why do we need this? We already have Uber.” Basically, microtransit is a regular vehicle, like usually it's a van, so it's a little bit bigger than a smaller car, so it can hold more people, but there is a driver or an operator. It’s usually uses a ride-hailing software, so an app that you put your destination in, you request a time to be picked up. So, for the user, it almost feels like you're taking an Uber or a Lyft or something. But as you'll hear from our guests today, there are actually quite a few different reasons to utilize microtransit. A lot of different user types, demographics can access this type of transit, and it's a lot more than just a private ridesharing service.

Brittany:

nt things on demand. We're in:

Our guest today is going to dive deep into this and explain more. We're so excited to have him with us. Let's learn more about microtransit.

Matthew:

My name is Matthew Dudley, and I am the transit manager with the city of Avondale.

Madeline:

What is microtransit?

Matthew:

Microtransit has been like called many, many things. Think of it as kind of like a big umbrella and there's a lot of different services under this microtransit umbrella. I've seen it called like Dial-a-Ride on steroids, fancy Dial-a-Ride, a city agency version of like an Uber and a Lyft.

All things been told, it's like this weird taxi-bus service. But really kinda what it is at the end of the day, it's just really an extremely flexible and dynamic mode of on-demand passenger transportation, really kind of in its simplest form a rider can request a vehicle, typically like a small van that you see anywhere on your street in your local neighborhood, and you have a downloadable and free mobile app that picks them up and drops them off at a location.

Now I know that sounds familiar, and you're going to say “Matt, you're just talking about like an Uber and a Lyft, right?” And I would say yes. That technology is very much the same of your average TNC, which is just the fancy name for the Uber's and Lyft's of the world. But really that is just kind of one component.

However, like usually the vehicles are owned and cleaned and professionally maintained by a city or transit agency versus like us. If we were out there using an Uber and a Lyft, we'd be using, you know, our vehicles. Plus, the drivers are professional operators like you would see kind of like in a Dial-a-Ride system or a bus system.

And so, they're kind of trained to deal with the nuances that come with general public transportation services. So microtransit lives in that space between like those ride-hailing services, like the Uber and Lyft, and like a fixed route bus. It just routes are really flexible.

It doesn't really have any type of schedule as it constantly shifts based on like the rider demand and we use those smaller vehicles to pick up passengers, usually not at their home, like ride-hailing really does, or we really even for the most part, don't even pick them up at traditional bus stops like you'd see, like at a Valley Metro bus stop. But for most part, most of these microtransit agencies are kind of using these virtual stop models that you can easily find like in your neighborhood. So, I live in a traditional suburban neighborhood out in Buckeye. So, I'd expect to see maybe three or four virtual stops kind of in neighborhood.

And it could be like a corner of a collector, or anything kind of like that. And you would navigate to these virtual stops using your smartphone. At least, that's the version I'm trying to bring to Avondale anyway. That's kinda microtransit in a 50-to-75,000-foot level.

Brittany:

Well, and I think it's important to make that distinction. Like you said, between a typical rideshare ride that you would order through an app and how a microtransit would operate a little bit differently, but within the same area.

Matthew:

Absolutely.

Brittany:

So, who are typical microtransit riders?

Matthew:

I would say the typical microtransit riders, pretty much anyone and everyone. With all our technological innovations and the wide-scale acceptance of these Ubers and Lyft, I think the general public is more versed on how to use smartphones and all these ride-hailing applications.

I think the Valley Metro planning department said, I think during the last O and D survey, that over like 90% of our riders in Maricopa County have smartphones and the data plans. And so, with really the breakneck speed of all these technological innovations that have curved really kind of in just the last, oh, I would say 20 or so, but more even like 10 or so years, I think the demands that we have as like transit professionals to adapt to these ever-changing needs of our riders are super important. So really what that tells me is that consumers want something that can really be done easily and more than ever kind of on our smartphones. And I think that's where microtransit can really take us to.

Madeline:

That's great. I feel like there might be a cynical person out there who's says “Well, what's the point of this is if Uber and Lyft exist?” And I know you touched on it a little bit, but could you maybe, just explain the benefits of a public microtransit system versus private Uber or Lyft system?

Matthew:

For instance, last Monday, I came into the office, and I actually had a meeting with a couple of residents up in the Garden Lakes area of north Avondale, and we were talking just about the future of transit.

They wanted the Zoom in their neighborhood. And I said “Hey, you know what, we're looking at something else in this particular area where we're bringing in microtransit.”

And she's like “what is that?”

I was like “Well, you've heard of Uber and Lyft?”

“Yeah. You know, I use Uber and. in my neighborhood, however, it costs me like $15, $20 to get there.”

And I was like “That's expensive just to go two miles.” So, more of a public agency type of microtransit is like that. You would use the app. The cost would be, anywhere from $2 to what I think we're going to look at to anywhere to $5. Now, is it as convenient as Uber and Lyft?

No, I don't think so. So, it's kind of like right there in that middle of public transportation and personalized transportation where you're walking into that corner, you're still having the app experience. You can even pay for it on your phone. Is it going to pick you up right away within like two or three minutes like an Uber and Lyft can? No, it'll probably be like 10 or 15 minutes. So, we are trying to find that space kind of like right in between where you're not paying a fortune to take an Uber and Lyft to your neighborhood grocery store, but you're using something else. So, I think that's where that void where microtransit can fit versus trying to go to a regular bus stop, where that neighborhood circulator or that Valley Metro bus may not even go near that particular grocery store, and you may have to transfer. So, we are trying to find that point in the middle where public transportation and ride-hailing can kind of coexist. And that's really kind of what we're trying to do on the microtransit side.

Brittany:

Awesome. And like you said, Matt, I think, cost is definitely one of those things that people worry about. That's why a lot of people take public transit because it is so cost-effective. And I think it goes back to that saying of fast, cheap and easy. You can't always have all three at the same time, but you guys are trying to find that right sweet spot for your customers and your consumers for this product.

Matthew:

Exactly.

Brittany:

Now that we know what microtransit is, how is it being used across the U.S.?

Matthew:

I think it's being used for like a variety of use cases around the country. Some of the more common approaches that I've seen have been connecting suburbs to urban areas We all hear the oh so popular first mile, last mile conundrum of like, ooh, how am I going to finish that trip?

Modernizing old legacy Dial-a-Ride system is another approach. Service and what's called transit deserts, trying to bring service out there and, you know, transit to employment centers. So, I really don't think there is kind of like a one-size-fits-all approach to microtransit.

And I think that’s the beauty of it. It gives you that flexibility that traditional fixed route buses can't give you in areas where transit demand is not quite there, but there's still a transit and a vital transit need. And I think as a transit professional, to me, it's so easy to get stuck in this I like to call it the 40-foot rectangle and 40-foot just because it's the standard size of a bus.

And so, hey, you know, the same mode. This is the same type of bus to solve like our mobility needs. And really that's just not the reality of the world anymore. And I've spoken with countless staff over the last couple of years, and looking at microtransit, and even visited a few agencies in person in Southern California, really to check out the operations and everyone uses kind of microtransit differently for different needs.

Some are running these pure microtransit operations as a same day on-demand service. While others have really started to kind of get really fancy with their microtransit in their commingling their paratransit Dial-a-Ride operations with microtransit using the same type of vehicles. Some are using these virtual stop models that I talked about earlier, while others are going to more like, okay, there's a corner-to-corner application where, hey, if there's a corner in your neighborhood, we pick up there.

Or even some that are giving more of that personalized service, like a curb to curb, like you would see with like traditional Dial-a-Ride. Pricing's all over the board, kind of like what I mentioned earlier is that some microtransit agencies are charging like $5 a trip, while some are only charging $1 a trip. I think Metro Micro in Los Angeles, they've been very successful and the only charge for $1 trip and I think people love that. I mean, the pickup times can vary, but for the most part, I think, the sweet spot is really anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes from the time you are booking on your trip on your app. For the most part, it seems also like the microtransit zones are really kind of the polygons that you start with are never the ones you end with.

I was like, all right, I have this microtransit plan and this is gonna be perfect. Oh no, what you start with is with the flexibility of microtransit, I think it's always going to allow you to change your zones, like even on the fly to adapt really to kind of the needs of your customers. And that is not something that's easy to do with more kind of our traditional, fixed route service where here we are every six months, that's when we, you know, put out the transit book and that's when we can make changes. No microtransit allows us to really kind of make those changes on the fly from service hours, to adding more zones, reducing hours, adding hours. I can add vehicles in there kind of more on the fly then I can do with just a typical, fixed route bus.

Madeline:

Going back to the money question, I know for the user, this is probably cheaper or similar to the cost of using other modes, but what does it cost to implement microtransit compared to building some other types of modes like light rail or setting up a new bus route?

Matthew:

It's not really a cheap option and it should only really be used where it really makes sense. I would say that the cost per hour, I think is cheaper than your average Dial-a-Ride system, which can range anywhere nationally, I think here we're like $50, $60, $70 per hour.

However, I think the productivity of a microtransit system can exceed that of a basic paratransit system. I think the Valley Metro regional Paratransit system here in the Valley on a good day may get one or two passengers per vehicle hour, where I've seen more of a these fine tune, microtransit systems can get anywhere from like five to six passengers per vehicle hour. There’s like a limited use in microtransit and honestly in no way should it be used in a system that has great fixed route bus demand or in anywhere there's kind of like light rail. This is not a mode of transit that you're going to find in like in a densely populated area or in downtown Phoenix or area where there's great transit propensity.

Microtransit is designed for areas where the standard bus performs poorly, or at least in a way that I'm, I'm going to be using it.

I'm going to be using microtransit to replace a segment of a very poorly performing circulator route here in Avondale.

Brittany:

So that brings us, I think, to our next question, which is why did you ever want to bring microtransit to the Valley in the first place?

Matthew:

Oh, come on. I'm just asking for punishment though, but I think as microtransit has really kind of evolved here at the national level and really even internationally, I was really kind of hoping to see that it would one, one fine day it would show up in the Phoenix area, or even here in like the state of Arizona.

Plus, I think the history of microtransit, I mean the microtransit we're looking at is really kind of only been around the last like seven or so years. It really kind of started out as this private venture in Boston, Kansas City, where it was a pure private venture where this, it was a hybrid ride-hailing bus service.

Really did not work very well. However, I think the industry has been very well in the private sector and the public sector, really kind of learning from our failures and what we have seen is the success of these public private partnerships between cities and transit agencies with whom are really kind of providing the drivers and the vehicles and the capital with these technology companies that are providing, the scheduling, you know, algorithm that people like to say. So, it's really kind of the best of both worlds. And to me, I saw the first real success back in Sacramento, just a few years back where they had a great, you know, microtransit partnership with a company.

And I was like “Hey, you know what? We could do that in the Valley this shouldn’t be too difficult right?” And really, to me, it really started hitting home kind of a few years back as I was looking at our struggling ridership for the Dial-a-Ride system. I think I was in the office on like a Friday and I ended up getting a call transferred to me from our Glendale dispatch center from a passenger who was really upset about a Dial-a-Ride experience that he had. And then after listening for it seemed like quite a long time and listening to their concern and trying to fix it, we started talking about why does he take Dial-a-Ride, does he take Dial-a-Rode as much as he used to, or not so much? He said that for the most part, he really liked the service that we provided to him and that he would always like take our service to the grocery store. But with the advent of these TNCs, he said he would always jump on one of those to get him home.

I was like, wow. He said he didn't like spending all that money for the trip, which was only really kind of few miles away from the Walmart he was going to, but he found it really convenient book that trip on the app and not necessarily have to wait on hold, he didn't have to worry about having the exact change And he knew exactly where his vehicle was going to pick them up on the this cool little app that he had. And I thought, hey, if the technology could really kind of catch up, that is something that I think we could do here. And then I think that opportunity rose really kind of a few years back.

Madeline:

Great. so speaking of that opportunity coming up, you brought microtransit to the west side of the Valley specifically in Glendale. So, will you talk a little bit about the process of bringing that pilot and also what the results and lessons learned were?

Matthew:

Mmmm, that process was a long one as what eventually really became microtransit really wasn't even microtransit. At that time, we directly operated circulator called the GUS bus, the Glendale Urban Shuttle. So, the problem that we had with the GUS bus at that time is that four or five times a day we'd have, these are large BNSF freight trains coming in and the time at all times of the day, and it really cut this route in two. And this train would stop on the train tracks anywhere from what seemed like five minutes to an eternity, but probably is only like 10 to 15 minutes.

But really this became quite a hassle for our residents who were depending on the circulators. So, we would be getting these calls into the dispatch center of like, “Where's my bus? Where's the bus?” I was like, “Well, you know, the bus is going to get there. It's a 30-minute frequency.” But so, we decided that, hey, why don't we bring this, this real time tracker into to the GUS system. Cause at the time the region didn't have any of that technology and I honestly didn't want to wait for Valley Metro anymore. And I know it was very much easier to implement a real-time bus tracker on a nine-bus fleet than hundreds of buses that Valley Metro and Phoenix were in the process of accomplishing and just finished this year.

has been around since the mid-:

But unlike most demand response systems that you see even here in the Valley, or even nationally, it's still open to the general public, along with seniors, ADA and disabled passengers. So, we brainstorm as a city. Wouldn’t it be great if we can get these Dial-a-Ride passengers that they could track their Dial-a-Ride bus, just like the circulator bus, because we did see a lot of the call volume go down because people could see where their bus was.

But at that time, the funding just wasn't there. Then one day my boss in Glendale came up to me and says, “Hey Matt, you still want to do that microtransit pilot that I've been fussing about?”

t we were gonna start in late:

We were still having the service and we debated internally whether or not just to put the pilot on hold and startup things when we thought was going to get back to normal, you know, in a couple of weeks, but really, obviously it's still going on. But we really had this good microtransit company, by the name of TransLoc, who was really kind of generous and extending what that pilot was from a six month to a nine month pilot, which took us really to the end of 2020.

And I'm glad we did. I mean, the first full month we saw oh, about 330 trips using microtransit. But the last month of the pilot had us almost at a thousand trips, which was close to a 200% increase. And so, when we compared our usage for Dial-a-Ride and our fixed route service during that same time period, we saw that our regular Dial-a-Ride uses was down a few percentage points over the year, but our fixed route and the circulator service was down 30%, 40%.

We conducted a end of pilot survey, and the results were very interesting. We found out that over 24% of our users never used Glendale transit services in the past. And the wait times are really kind of remarkable.

They were less than 30 minutes. And this is only after using two or three vehicles in this 15, 20-mile zone in north Glendale. Our riders who did use it, loved the feeling of taking ownership of the ride. Just kind of like an Uber and a Lyft where you can book your own trip. They love the notification features like you would get with a traditional TNC saying, Hey, your vehicles here, here's your driver. And really kind of 30% of our riders mentioned that the pilot supplanted other modes of driving using those expensive TNCs, or like bumming rides off their friends. So, it worked really well, but we, we did have some lessons learned though.

Brittany:

Matt, you've been through the lessons learned, you know, what it takes to get microtransit off the ground and running. What is coming to Avondale?

Matthew:

So, when I was working on that microtransit pilot in Glendale at the same time, you know, both the cities of Avondale and Goodyear were working like really hard on a transit study led by our regional NPO, MAG, on the future of what transit could be in the Southwest Valley. Avondale in particular has this 20-mile neighborhood circulator, called the Zoom that serves many parts of Avondale, along with sections of Goodyear and Tolleson. And at one time it was an extremely well utilized service, but over the last few years, unfortunately, ridership has kind of dropped off. The productivity of this route is pretty subpar.

When I started looking at the ridership in the north Avondale area, and even though we are providing half-hour service 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM during the weekdays, we're really only getting about 30 riders per day in this, in this north Avondale section, which is really kind of north of I-10.

Operating in the segment cost about $85,000 per month, which equates to, you know, calculate a members it's about $142 a trip. I think we feel that it's going to be, if we're going to invest in public transportation and we're going to spend those type of dollars, that microtransit is really kind of a better solution than a lightly used circular for this section of the town and the study results bore out this fact and gave us the recommendation of microtransit, not only here in Avondale, but in Goodyear. And so, I thought this area was really kind of right for a microtransit system. So, when that opportunity came up to come over and implement a new system, it was very difficult to pass.

And what I really like is like the passion of the management team over here and the support of the mayor and council and getting this new system up and running really kind of had a big part in knowing that microtransit, I think, is something that can really become a reality here in Avondale. So, we are in the process now of drafting and microtransit, RFP for kind of a turnkey system.

And when I talk about turnkey, it's pretty much bringing in a contractor who will provide all the vehicles, the drivers, the supervisors, administration technology kind of to implement our vision of a north Avondale microtransit system, which we are looking right now, starting at the beginning of fiscal year.

So, it'll be July,:

And this stop really, if you walked out your door would really only be like a three-to-five-minute walk from your house. So, I envision there's going to be several of these virtual stops in your neighborhood. We're going to plan to make these locations including stops like entertainment areas, movie theaters, restaurant, Wal-Mart, people love their Wal-Mart, doctor's office, work, grocery store. And it'll just kind of give you that feel of a TNC, because again, you're going to be able to track your vehicle, pay for your fare on the app.

It'd be branded for the community. It'd be an app that you can just download from the Apple or Google store. And again, it'll be substantially cheaper than using one of those TNCs, so, you know, at the end of the day, I think microtransit will really bring a new, innovative way of connecting our riders with the destinations in Avondale.

And I'm really excited to see how this is going to work. So other cities in the region kind of can learn from our success or even some of the challenges that, you know, we might face in implementing this new mode of service. So, I'm, I'm really excited if you couldn't tell.

Brittany:

Maddie. There's so much that goes into microtransit for being such a small service, it has a lot that goes into it.

Madeline:

Yeah, really shows what I know, thinking that it's just like another option like Uber or Lyft. Obviously, there's a lot more planning involved in that.

Thanks to Matt for getting us up to speed. And after the break, we're going to dive even more into microtransit and take a look at what's happening over on the east side of the Valley. So stay tuned.

Peter::

Skip the parking problems in downtown Phoenix and take part in this slam dunk deal. Your ticket to the Suns game and ALL events at the Footprint Center is you fare to ride light rail to and from the event. Shazzam!

Alex::

On the go and need to know about your transit routes? Subscribe to RideText to get real-time Rider Alerts sent directly to your phone. It's easy to sign up, just head to valleymetro.org/ridetext for more information.

Peter::

After finishing this episode of Storylines, stay a little bit longer and check out the newest Valley Metro playlist on Spotify, where you can hear some songs with a bit of inspiration from microtransit.

Brittany:

From the West Valley to the East Valley, microtransit is going to be making their imprint. We're excited because, obviously in the West Valley, it's up, it's ready, they're starting. But it's a little slower to come to the East Valley. Right Maddie?

Madeline:

That's right. So, Valley Metro and the city of Chandler just completed a study last summer that was looking at how to incorporate microtransit into the Chandler area. So, they're looking at a bunch of employment centers, seeing that more and more people are moving into that corridor and, you know, wondering how can we best serve residents, business owners, employees, even students as you'll hear in our next interview who live and work in that area.

Brittany:

Like you said, you worked on the study, but let's check in with one of our Valley Metro planners to see next steps on what exactly microtransit is going to look like in Chandler.

Aaron:

ears now. I started Christmas:

Madeline:

Awesome. Alright. So, our first question, Valley Metro, with you as the lead planner, recently completed a transit study in Chandler. Will you tell us a little bit about that study, what you were analyzing and what the results were?

Aaron:

Sure thanks. So, this was a study that was done in the city of Chandler, kind of in the central portion, by Price Road. Anybody's kind of familiar with that area knows it includes the downtown as well, kind of Arizona Avenue and Chandler Boulevard intersection, Chandler Fashion Center as well. The initial emphasis of this study was, so we had a little bit of difficulty going in trying to figure out how do we serve some of these bigger land uses with fixed transit.

So down on the Price Road corridor they have big office parks, Intel, PayPal, Wells Fargo. We know that there's a lot of people coming and going to those areas generating a lot of traffic, but the way that that land use is really spread out is not conducive to the traditional way that we try to serve people with transportation, with a fixed route bus services.

And that was kind of when the idea came in to incorporate something that was a little bit more flexible that could go into these office parks, that could serve a little bit better than, for example, an extension on the 81, which was considered, or something similar to that. So, in that study, we analyzed, so like I was mentioning before the land uses. So, figuring out what the big trip generators are that are making all the traffic in the area, figure out the demographics, so that we know who are we serving, who are we targeting, and what kind of needs do they have? And looking back at the previous studies and the proposals for service changes to see what might come next for the service in that area so that if we were to put it a zone there for fixed or flexible transit, we would know, what are we plugging into in the future, and not just, what is there now. So, from there we worked with a couple of pretty well-known names in the industry to figure out, simulate essentially, if we were to put a zone here, what, you know, a certain size.

So, we went with a 18-square-mile service area, which was the entire study area. What kind of demand could we expect to see? And then from there you kind of get the foothold of knowing, well if we're going to see probably this amount of people, how many cars are we going to need, how many drivers are we going to need, how much is this gonna cost? And then you could just kind of fill in from there, the building blocks to now, now this would be the recommended study area over this study area because it's going to generate more demand, more bang for the buck, going to be connecting to these specific land uses and so forth.

So, we ended up coming out of the study with that recommendation to serve the 18-square-mile service area in central Chandler. So that incorporates the Intel, PayPal, Wells Fargo, Price Corridor that I was mentioning, Chandler Fashion Center, which is like a major, all down in that area, Downtown Chandler by the Chandler Boulevard/Arizona Avenue intersection, and some schools as well. And the schools ended up being important because right at the tail end of this study, Chandler was able to kind of leverage the takeaways from the study to get $2 million in grant funding to actually run the service. So, that was kind of encouraging, uh, in and of itself.

Just to show now that the more that we plan these, kind of collectively as a region instead of just going at it piecemeal, the more luck we may have getting that kind of funding for those services.

Brittany:

Now that the study is completed and they're getting $2 million. What are the next steps?

Aaron:

So, the next steps are to, I guess contend with a couple of major issues. So, the study the grant was for serving transportation needs for schools and school children. So, it tried to, you know, focus more on that. And a big part of that is to roll that out before the start of the next school year. And Chandler starts a bit earlier, I think, than most in my knowledge, which is in July. So pretty much mid-summer. So, you know, starting right on the heels of November and trying to roll that service out, middle of next summer was a real stretch, especially considering in this study, we had already kind of laid out for them, you know, if you were to roll this out, this would take X number of months and that was 12, 13 months. So, they were definitely compressing that. And then you compound those issues with supply chain issues that nobody really has vans or vehicles available. So, you really have to try to finagle your vehicles out of people that have already had rolling orders. And then there's kind of the other issue of labor. Lately where we've had issues getting drivers just generally for our services, unfortunately missing a lot of trips and hours, then to go to the contractor and say, well, we need an extra five people during peak, is you know, a big ask, especially when we have other, improvements on our books that have been there for a couple of years. Now that we're kind of telling cities, we can't do this because we don't have manpower to even sustain what we have.

So, luckily, we're able to get around those issues a little bit with the flexibility. For example, now you don't really need CDL drivers to drive some of the vehicle types that microtransit uses. So, we're able to, um, capitalize on some flexibility with the type of service, but definitely looking into the vehicle procurement, looking into labor, and then also the software is kind of the next big element, you know, working with a Via or, TransLoc or another big name in the industry to get that software. And that software is kind of the secret sauce of how a driver will know how to optimize the trips dynamically as they come in real time to optimize wait times convenient for folks in the street and stuff like that.

So, luckily, those companies are usually able to pull together some labor and fleet software if you're going to pay the price for the short notice. So that's kind of our process now. Going through that RFP. I think that's been out on the street through Christmas. Probably not the ideal time, but obviously because of the crunch, we don't have a bunch of flexibility with that. So, I think reviewing applications in a couple of weeks for that.

Brittany:

How do you see microtransit benefiting our region?

Aaron:

I kind of go back a to presentation that I'd seen Scott Smith give about kind of the general idea of how he wants to see the transit system rollout or kind of what he sees is the ideal future transit system, at least on the middle to short term, which is that, you know, we'd have the rail as the backbone, the more frequent arterial services is kind of branching off of that. Maybe local, fixed route service or circulators, on some of the areas, but really on the periphery to bring people in and to feed that regional system, having. A lot of on-demand zones. I think will be really conducive to bringing people in, especially on the peripheries of our zone where the land use is not as dense or walkable as it is, you know, Downtown Tempe Downtown Phoenix.

So, it really caters more to the sprawl land use that fixed route transit doesn't really serve very well. It was really never meant to serve very well. It's, you know, kind of designed from a time, perhaps. So, these were designed around street cars, three car lines. So, then people didn't have to walk very far.

Walking networks made a lot more sense than I think they do in some of the planned unit developments where they're very circuitous, auto-oriented, not very pedestrian friendly, you have a lot of walls that block people from the main arterial. So, now even if you have a house, that's the quarter mile from a bus stop, as the crow flies, you still have to walk about three quarters of a mile around your development, just to get to that stop, which nobody wants to do.

Especially considering service out there would probably be half an hour headways or worse. So, I think, you know, when people look at microtransit and I don't see it as something that will be competing with are cannibalizing a lot of the good, strong, regional service that we have today, but I think as a feeder systems to the regional system, as a way to get around some of the sprawl issues that we have in our region, it's a good way to bring people into transit that, you know, wouldn't be on transit otherwise.

Madeline:

So that kind of leads into our next question. If money was no object and you're looking at a map of the Maricopa County, our service areas, where would be the next place that you think could benefit from this kind of a study?

Aaron:

In the West Valley we're doing a study actually just kicked off December. And I would actually say for, you know, for a lot of the reasons that we had that I just mentioned before about the sprawling land use patterns, the west is growing really fast. I think Buckeye and Surprise are some of the fastest growing cities relative to their size in the region.

That area generally has a lot of potential to bring people into the regional network that I don't think is really been capitalized on. I think, you know, Matt may have touched on this on, looking at that Zoom area, I think that is probably the right way to go in terms of replacing kind of a middling or, you know, not sort of great circulator with an on-demand zone even though you may only get, you know, a little bit more ridership, I think the costs will be a lot lower, service that's a lot better considering, you know, the headways are 30 minutes and in a zone like that, you could probably get, you know, 15 minute service or better with a lot less costs and obviously lower walking distances as well, because it's possible.

So, I think that area, you know, around Avondale is kind of interested to see how that goes. I think really that Southwest kind of edge of the periphery of the network, I think will be probably the next, area for microtransit, And I know Matt and Christina out in Goodyear, they're working fast on their stuff. So, I think they agree.

Brittany:

Aaron is there anything you want to tell us about what you've seen just as a planner, across the country, how that's helping us make decisions here?

Aaron:

The two kind of big examples come to my mind. One is in Dallas, and one is in LA. In Dallas, I think they have come a really long way in terms of expanding those zones. So, I think they started with just a couple of different zones and then lately, they've just exploded with a bunch of different zones.

And I want to say they have like over a hundred square miles or so of service like this and different patches that feeds into the regional networks.

So, they're obviously pretty happy with that.

Madeline:

Well, I feel like I could write a book on microtransit at this point. Just kidding maybe not. I'll leave that to the planners. But, I certainly did learn a lot and it also makes me excited to see what's on the horizon for transit and transportation across the Valley.

I think, public transit, we kind of get a bad rap about being slow to adapt and stuck in our ways. But look at this, we just heard about two completely different parts of the Valley already adopting these newer technologies and innovating in the ways that we move people around.

Brittany:

Exactly Maddie. And we're always looking for opportunities to improve and move people throughout the Valley. Connecting communities, enhancing lives through different forms of public transit, including bus rapid transit. I know that that's something that's already in a lot of other cities, and we're looking at implementing here in the Valley.

So that's something on the horizon to get excited about for sure.

Madeline:

Thanks for joining us for another episode of Storylines. If you have a question or wondering about something related to transit and transportation in the Valley, send us a note to podcast@valleymetro.org and we will tackle your question in an upcoming episode.

For Valley Metro I'm Madeline.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany,

Madeline:

Thanks for riding with us.

Brittany:

We'll meet you at the next stop.

Links