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Using Microtransit to Fill Gaps in Transportation Networks 

Jersey City is one of several municipalities across the country to launch an on-demand transportation service to address gaps and connect to a vast public transit network that includes NJ TRANSIT buses and light rail, PATH and ferries.

The City partnered with Via to launch the service two years ago. The New York City-based transportation technology company works with more than 600 public entities and facilitates 2.5 million shared rides each month. Eric Gardiner, East Coast partnerships director, told the NJTPA Board of Trustees during a presentation Monday.

Gardiner said microtransit is best used to:
  • Fill gaps where fixed-route network is limited, especially fixed route as an artery
  • Complement fixed route with first- and last-mile solutions
  • Convert underperforming fixed routes into on-demand services
  • Increase mobility for seniors or disabled riders
Sometimes called on-demand transit, microtransit is technology-enabled transportation that uses real time, on-the-ground information to group passengers into shared rides based on traffic and where rides are being requested, Gardiner said. (The latest issue of NJTPA’s InTransition biannual magazine, examined microtransit efforts around the country.)
There are two models that Via offers: 
  • Licensing software to transit agencies and operators who prefer to use their own vehicles and drivers. 
  • A turnkey solution operated on behalf of partners that includes technology, drivers and vehicles, which is how it’s used in Jersey City. 
Via minivans in Jersey CityIn Jersey City, Via’s 44 Mercedes vans (eight are wheelchair accessible) and two electric vehicles cover a service zone of 15 square miles on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Six of 10 trips connect to transit and 70 percent of rides are shared, according to Gardiner.

Since Via Jersey City launched in early 2020, it’s provided more than 1.25 million rides, averaging 57,000 per month or around 2,000 rides per day. In the third quarter of 2022, Gardiner estimated that Via helped to avoid more than 300,000 miles of single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) driving.

There have been questions about whether on-demand microtransit cannibalizes existing fixed-route services and if privatization is the answer for improving public transportation. Analysis by Via showed that less than 25 percent of trips taken by the service could have been served by existing transit services. “Via Jersey City is really showing that it’s enhancing, not taking away from, fixed-route services,” Gardiner said.

Jersey City also plans to integrate public transit service into its app, allowing riders to choose public transportation over Via, or see where they could connect a Via ride to transit.

Via minivan picks up passenger at light rail stationThis city is split into two zones, a center zone concentrated around the downtown and an outer zone. Fares are $2.50 anywhere from the center zone to the outer zone; beyond the outer zone is an additional $0.50 per mile. Given the geography of Jersey City, fares don’t tend to be more than $5, he said. These fares cover only a portion of actual costs which in 2021 were $11.61 per ride, according to Gardiner.

More than half of users report a household income of less than $50,000, according to Gardiner, while 88 percent identify as minorities, 58 percent as women, and 68 are under the age of 35. Michael Manzella, Jersey City’s Director of Transportation, said Via is serving the exact population it was expected to, with ridership growing about 23 percent from 2021 to 2022 and approaching five passenger rides per hour.

The program is helping Jersey City meet other goals, including improving safety by reducing automobiles on the road, Gardiner said.

“The fact that people are able to access the service for the first and last mile is probably reducing pedestrian crossings at roadways and increasing pedestrian safety,” NJTPA Board Chair John W. Bartlett added.

Arjun Janakiram, Via’s funding policy researcher, said there are several federal funding programs that communities could use to create microtransit programs, including:
  • Carbon Reduction Program: $1.28 billion per year ($13.5 million allocated to northern New Jersey), which can be used for on-demand transportation service technology. 
  • Congestion Relief Program: $50 million per year, which can be used for on-demand microtransit. The notice of funding opportunity is expected to be issued in the coming months. 
  • Rural Transportation Program: $300 million to $500 million per year, which can be used for an integrated mobility management system and on-demand mobility services. 
  • Advanced Technologies Program: $60 million per year, which can be used for on-demand transportation service. 
Jersey City subsidizes its program to keep fares affordable but has received grants to support its Via program, including $600,000 from the state Department of Environmental Protection to further electrify the fleet and $250,000 from the federally-funded NJ-Job Access and Reverse Commute program administered by NJ TRANSIT. The city has also generated $100,000 in revenue from advertising on the interior and exterior of Via vehicles.

A recording of the presentation is available here. 
Posted: 1/11/2023 1:53:22 PM by Mark Hrywna | with 0 comments