On-demand transportation services as a complement of public transit

By Yicong Yang

A recent article reports that on-demand transportation can complement existing transit and help cities reduce traffic by up to 15 to 30 percent. The original study was conducted jointly by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Via Transportation, Inc., a private transportation network company (TNC). Data is provided by Via collected from four locations—Arlington, TX; West Sacramento, CA; Berlin, Germany; and Seattle, WA. The study also analyzes characteristics of on-demand transit services from the perspectives of quality, efficiency, congestion, pollution, convenience, future mobility and opportunity, and regulation. In general, the authors find that on-demand transit has great potential to reduce congestion, pollution, and social inequality.

Emerging transportation technologies such as TNCs and on-demand transit apps have been much in the news, often with claims that TNCs are adding to urban congestion. However, research findings associated with congestion and total vehicle miles traveled are mixed, because conditions can vary by location. In this study, an important conclusion is that the on-demand service can complement public transit networks. It can reach poor neighborhoods with the potential to improve access to jobs. For example, Via was launched in Seattle in 2019. The company provides rides to and from five light-rail stations for the price of a trip on a public bus. By dedicating itself to the first- and last-mile to and from transit stations, 100,000 rides have been given in about six months, opening opportunities to people who were unable to access transit previously.

On-demand transit service as a complement to public transit would bring social and economic benefits to cities. However, the study also points out that unregulated or lightly-regulated ride hailing services generally compete with rather than complement public transit. Therefore, it is important to enhance the regulatory framework and bring together operators and local authorities to integrate on-demand transit service into the existing transportation system effectively.

Yicong Yang is a Project Assistant at SSTI.