San Antonio Transit Case Study: RideCo Microtransit Replaces Buses in Low-Density Area
7 minute read
San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit engaged RideCo to replace underperforming fixed-route buses in a low density suburban area in Northeast San Antonio.
The 400+ designated pickup/drop-off virtual stops in the zone are within a 5-minute walk for all riders. Passengers use a mobile app to book a ride that is on-demand or pre-scheduled and are picked up in 5-seat minivans.
This program has met all expectations of the City of San Antonio and is currently serving 650+ passengers per weekday. The service boasts industry-leading productivity for an on-demand solution and ridership continues to grow.
San Antonio’s VIA Metro is a regional multimodal public transit provider in Texas, completing 36.6 million passenger trips across 14 cities each year. Their fleet of almost 500 buses and 150 vans are routed through 6 transit hubs and service 96 fixed routes.
The agency engaged RideCo to replace underperforming fixed-route buses in a low density suburban area in Northeast San Antonio. Additionally, they wanted RideCo to provide first-last-mile services to major transit hubs in their network, complimenting their existing high quality fixed-route transit.
The agency identified two innovation pilot zones in the greater San Antonio Region to implement and test an on-demand dynamic route microtransit service. VIA Link service in the first zone launched in May 2019 to immediate success, with zone two scheduled to launch in the spring of 2020.
The northeast of San Antonio is a 19 square mile suburban area with a relatively low population density. As a result, bus trip frequency and overall bus productivity was quite low (less than 15 boardings per vehicle per hour). The only way for residents of the area to get to the hub station that connects with the rest of San Antonio was through one of these poorly performing bus routes, and getting anywhere else in San Antonio by transit was a lengthy process.
How It Works and Service Model
The 400+ designated pickup/drop-off virtual stops in the zone are within a 5-minute walk for all riders
Passengers use a mobile app to book a ride that is on-demand or pre-scheduled
Riders are picked up in 5-seat vans —some of which are equipped with bike racks and some of which are wheelchair accessible
This program has met all expectations of the City of San Antonio and is currently serving 650+ passengers per weekday. The service boasts industry-leading productivity for an on-demand solution and ridership continues to grow. The rapid success of this project has led the city to begin planning a second on-demand zone which is scheduled to launch in Q2 2020.
RideCo provided a turnkey solution that included elements such as service design, mapping, software customization, reporting, driver training, and marketing & communications plan design. The transit agency and the city alike have been tremendously pleased with the rapid success of the service and with RideCo’s management of our marketing and fleet operator partners.
A detailed overview of the work we’ve done on this project is presented here:
1) Analysis, Service Design, and Service Modelling/Mapping
Analysis: Requested ridership data from the agency — including existing stop locations and hot and cold spots in the network — in order to ascertain the typical experience for riders; this data was then used to determine estimated in-vehicle times, pickup wait times, and in-transit times for the new service.
Service Design: Developed a hub-to-hub service that services riders across the region. Configured the locations and number of hubs to achieve a balance between route efficiency and safety for passengers. Ensured all stops were easily identifiable to drivers and riders alike. Reached out to local interest groups for input on maintaining important hubs such as churches and shopping malls. Ran simulations to determine Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and passenger estimates, as well as how we can maximize efficiency and keep costs to the city below current rates. Matched existing fare types to allow for smooth transition between the old and new services for riders.
Mapping: Produced maps of the service region and integrated them at existing stops to inform riders of the change; this ensured a seamless transition between the old fixed-route and the new on-demand service.
2) Software and Technology Solutions
Software Functions: Introduced capacity types to our app, including the ability to book accessible vehicles (wheelchair lift/ramp equipped with companion seats available), bike rack equipped vehicles, and regular vehicles. Added service region restrictions to our app.
Software/Technology Customization: White labelled our app to agency specifications (as seen here).
3) Performance Planning
Customer Success Plan: Coordinated with the transit agency and ESD Marketing to hire street teams to hand out promotional flyers at local churches, malls, transit terminals, and other points of interest. Integrated a fare system that was very similar to the previous system, which allows offline (cash) payments and phone-based booking; this ensures riders without smartphones are still able to use the service.
Data Collection and Reporting: Worked alongside the agency’s federal compliance and performance monitoring teams — as well as our driver partner’s management team — to determine customized KPI reporting particulars required by each team. Delivered customized data reports to the agency regularly.
Performance Targets: Met internal goals of increasing bookings through our app and coordinated with transit agency representatives to define target numbers of rides per day and on time performance percentages so these figures could be compared with the agency’s existing KPIs.
4) Vehicle Programming
Vehicle Specifications and Fleet Mix: Ensured our driver-partner dedicated 13 vehicles (2 ADA accessible, and 3 with bike racks attached) to the service during service hours. All vehicles are 5-seat Dodge Grand Caravans, and accessible vehicles can take regular passengers as well as passengers with mobility issues.
Vehicle Allocations: Monitored and optimized vehicle supply using ridership demand data. Because our vehicle supply is flexible, all vehicles need not be on the road during off-peak hours; this results in cost savings for the agency.
5) Driver Training and Management
In-Vehicle Driver Training: Sent RideCo driver training specialists to ride along with drivers on preliminary test routes to pick up test passengers. Trained the trainer for our fleet operator partner; the training program will continue to run throughout the service.
Classroom Training: Ran classroom sessions to train drivers on how to use the driver app and on-board ADA passengers and passengers with bicycles. Worked with our fleet operator partner to provide additional safety and federal transportation regulation training for drivers.
Logistics Management: Optimized driver shift changes (staggering driver breaks and shift end times) to maintain service area coverage. RideCo maintains regular contact with our fleet operator partner to ensure all operational goals are met.
6) Communications and Marketing
Branding: Prioritized marketing and guided our marketing partner’s team to an efficient and cost-effective approach to publicizing the new service. Developed a strong working relationship with ESD Marketing, our marketing partner on this project.
Brochure Design and Distribution: Developed informational brochures to help spread awareness about the service in coordination with our local marketing partner and distributed these at the main transit hub as well as at malls in the service zone.
Spanish Language Programming/Customization: Produced Spanish-language versions of all pamphlets and marketing materials to ensure the largest non-English-speaking demographic in the area was fully informed of the service.
Community Outreach/Marketing: Carried out extensive marketing campaigns with teams at both the transit agency and marketing contractor. Together we developed a website landing page, in-bus advertisements, and bus station promotional placards. Additionally, we developed custom vehicle branding, including magnetic decals that can be removed, replaced, or maintained (updated) easily at virtually no cost.