The Bus is still best – ride-shares aren’t the most efficient way to move lots of people around cities.
A recent conference I attended featured a panel called “Microtransit: The Fight Against Congestion.” Microtransit: It sounds as though a genius has shrunk public transportation in a laboratory, making it adorable. In some cases, shrinking vehicles is a great idea. Cities don’t have room for everyone’s car. With shared electric scooters, and improvements to bicycle access, people are finding new ways to move without taking up much more space than their body does.
So it feels right that shrinking transit might be a good idea, too, maybe into little vehicles that will come to your door on demand. But it’s not. The best way to get the most people around a city efficiently and cheaply isn’t nearly as sexy or high-tech: It’s fixed-route buses.
Microtransit, or “Uber for public transit,” as some advocates call it, is a new name for an old idea: “dial-a-ride,” or demand-responsive transit. A van roams in a neighborhood. People can call a phone number and request a vehicle to take them where they want to go, or at least to a transit hub. The van might stop for others along the way, too. There are hundreds of these services in the United States. As a transit-planning consultant, I have been designing and redesigning dial-a-rides for 25 years.
The only new feature of microtransit is smartphones. Apps let customers reserve trips on shorter notice than before, and without making a phone call. But microtransit is about as inefficient as dial-a-ride always was, for reasons that no technology will change.