Use Cases

An In-Depth Analysis of On-Demand Transit Use Cases: Underperforming Bus Routes


Jess Blenkarn


3 min read

Jess Blenkarn
3 min read

Underperforming bus routes are a financial burden for transit agencies. They often draw frustration from critics and agencies face political pressure to cut routes that are frequently empty and have a high cost per passenger that cannot be maintained. In many cases, underperforming bus routes are cancelled altogether, reducing mobility options for residents and businesses along the route.

Instead, agencies can look to on-demand transit as the solution. With on demand, dynamically routed vehicles are dispatched to pickup locations only where a ride has been requested, increasing productivity and improving the rider experience, while lowering operating costs.

The Increasing Demand for More Mobility Options

Prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, 7.8 million commuters across the United States relied on public transit. In the few years leading up to pandemic, many transit agencies were experiencing some decline in ridership related to the increase in popularity of other mobility options, including bike and scooter sharing and private for-hire transportation, such as Uber. During this period, on-demand microtransit started to emerge, leveraging some of the rider benefits of ride-hailing but at a more affordable price point for public transit users. From the agency perspective, microtransit also offered an opportunity to maintain service in low-demand areas, at a sustainable cost.  

When the pandemic began, ridership declined even further, resulting in budget cuts that have accelerated the need to find another mobility solution. Additionally, traffic congestion has returned to pre-pandemic levels and agencies are struggling to provide a reliable service for passengers with fewer resources.

On-Demand Transit Provides a Productive and Cost-Effective Solution

Rather than remove an area’s access to transit altogether when bus routes are underperforming, agencies are looking to on-demand transit as an alternative mobility option. On-demand transit picks up passengers only on request and takes them directly where they need to go. While fixed-route buses drive around empty without guarantee that a passenger will board, when an on-demand vehicle is deployed, it is dynamically routed to pick up passengers for trips that have been specifically requested.

RideCo’s advanced routing algorithm, Solver, optimizes against vehicle locations, guaranteed arrival times, driver breaks, and traffic delays every 20 seconds to ensure vehicles are taking the most efficient route. The vehicles then pick up passengers as they book rides in real-time through the app, web portal, or phone.

With dynamic routing and an increase in shared rides, agencies experience higher vehicle productivity and lower cost per passenger. Previously in San Antonio, VIA Metropolitan Transit (VIA)’s three underperforming bus routes had an $11 cost per passenger, but when RideCo’s innovative on-demand transit technology was implemented, cost per passenger was reduced by 36% to $7.

On-Demand Transit Service Surpasses Goals After Replacing Underperforming Routes in San Antonio

VIA partnered with RideCo when three fixed routes were unproductive and becoming too costly to continue operating. The bus routes were servicing few passengers per vehicle hour and did not serve enough of the population through its catchment zone.

RideCo replaced these buses with a fully on-demand solution, including twelve 5-seat vans that are ADA compliant and equipped with bike racks. This compliance enables vehicles to be commingled with paratransit using our Capacity Configuration Optimizer. The on-demand service zone is 19 square miles and provides a cost-effective mobility option for 80,000 people.

“RideCo’s on-demand transit has proven to be a true game-changer. The service has been tremendously successful as a flexible travel option that helps us become more efficient and provides connections to the places our customers go.”

– Jeffrey C. Arndt, President and CEO, VIA Metropolitan Transit.

Within 14 weeks of its launch, the service surpassed its project goals, achieving:

When ridership on a particular bus route falls and it becomes too costly to justify service, on-demand transit can deliver a mobility option for residents and businesses that is more productive and cost-effective.

To learn more about how your agency can benefit from on-demand transit technology, contact RideCo today!

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