Your transit system is getting competition. What to do to stay relevant

Wed, 2016-02-17 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Think you have a lock on providing mass transit in your city? You may be in for some competition. A new service is popping up in several cities offering commuters the flexibility of private-car taxi services, like Uber, with the discount prices of mass transit.

Bridj, which uses large vans to shuttle several people on-demand at a time, is popping up in several cities. And it’s designed to do what transit often doesn’t: get people to their jobs quickly.

With private firms now getting into the transit business, cities may want to take a look at how usable their systems actually are.

Most jobs are out of transit’s reach
Bridj is branching out to Kansas City, Missouri — its third city — where it claims public transit is especially poor. The company claims that for most residents, more than 80% of the jobs are more than 90 minutes away via public transit.

But Kansas City is hardly unusual. A 2011 Brookings Institute study found that in American cities, on average, fewer than one-third of jobs can be reached with conventional transit in less than an hour and a half.

Honolulu residents fair the best; 60% of their jobs can be reached relatively quickly by transit. Florida cities placed at or near the bottom of the list. In Palm Bay, just 7% can be reached in a somewhat timely manner; in Miami, just 16%. Washington, D.C., and New York City placed in the middle of the pack with 37% of jobs being 90 minutes away or less.

The poor and low-skilled are also hit especially hard. Public transit typically provides faster service to areas where there are jobs for highly-skilled workers.

Providing rapid, comfortable service
Washington, D.C., was the company’s second market and it’s working to understand the commuting patterns of the city’s residents. It hopes to get to a point where it can pick up and drop off passengers no more than 10 minutes away from their homes and offices, and ensure that they will never have to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus.

Riders say the seats are comfortable and they have free Wi-Fi, allowing them to do work and check email, while en route. In Washington, rides cost $5. In Boston, where the company is based, fares range between $3 and $5.

The service is constantly adjusting routes based on demand and in Boston, its first market, it’s adding new neighborhoods to the service. It’s not clear where the service is getting its riders — is it getting them out of cars or taking them from buses? — but the early results indicate people will use shuttle services if they are convenient.

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