When we talk about transit, we often think of buses on a roadway or trains on a set of rails. But the trips for individuals do not start and stop at the transit stops/stations. Transit agencies often struggle to expand service to make the “first/last mile” connections shorter and more convenient.
These challenges are not new – they have existed since people began leaving their farms for work. In Austin, much of Capital Metro’s new Connections 2025 plan is centered around increased frequency. An analysis of that plan indicates that the revamped service map locates about twice as many households within one-quarter of a mile of a transit stop with frequent service; that doubling only brings the total to 21 percent of total households within the service area and 32 percent of households under the poverty line within the service area.
However, there are more options now to help make these connections. Traditional first/last mile connections such as walking, bicycling, and park-and-ride/kiss-and-ride can be supplemented with Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) and bike share systems, among others.
TNCs provide point-to-point rides with simple, convenient access through smart phone interfaces with integrated payment systems. While controversial in some areas and welcomed in others, TNCs provide the flexibility that transit agencies cannot and can supplement transit service, as has recently been done in Pinellas County through a partnership with Uber and Centennial, CO through a partnership with Lyft. While similar to carshare services such as car2go and Zipcar, utilizing TNCs does not require a parking space on either end or a return trip.
Bike share systems are another increasingly popular method to supplement transit systems. Bike share systems make shared bicycles available on a short-term basis to individuals. Bike share systems allow for one-way trips and many systems offer subscriptions that make the first 30–45 minutes of use either free or very inexpensive, encouraging use as transportation. For many systems, smartphone mapping apps show nearby stations with available bikes and open docks. These systems provide the speed and convenience of bicycling without the hassle of taking the bicycle on the transit vehicle. The Maryland Transit Administration recently identified bike share as an important part of their mobility choice suite.
The expanding definition of transit is another example of transportation professionals re-focus on the most important question in our discipline: how do we move people?
We encourage you to contact us about your next traffic engineering project to see how we can help you to make it a great success.