8th January, 2020

14 min read

On-Demand Transit Can Help Solve The Urban Mobility Enigma

On-Demand Transit | Urban Mobility | Public Transit | Economic Mobility | City Commute

A new study by Boston Consulting Group takes a solid look at on-demand microtransit, with results firmly showing that “on-demand transit services work,” with the potential to decrease traffic by 15-30% while implementing a more efficient and comfortable way of traveling.

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Rather than fighting urban mobility hurdles, ride-hailing services are sometimes adding to them. Fortunately, cities facing decreasing public transportation usage and growing traffic gridlock now have a solution proven to reduce congestion, decrease pollution, boost economic mobility, and get people out of private vehicles: on-demand microtransit.
That’s according to four lead researchers at Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm operating in more than 50 countries. In the organization’s most current report, “On-Demand Transit Can Unlock Urban Mobility,” analysts studied four unique on-demand, dynamically routed, multi-passenger transit projects over the course of a year.
Researchers tell that the results are straightforward: on-demand transit offers a powerful way for cities to maximize the value and ridership of existing transit systems.
“Our research revealed that on-demand transit services work,” researchers concluded in the study. “In the appropriate regulatory setting, with lower per-passenger subsidies than those granted to comparable public services, these initiatives can profit passengers and cities alike. Their convenience and versatility improve the user experience over fixed-route mass transit while producing good jobs within reach of neighborhoods inadequately served by the status quo. They also generate less congestion and pollution than solo passenger travel.”
During the year-long effort, analysts assessed a wide variety of factors to determine their final recommendation. They weighed metrics like the quality and efficiency of the service, whether the transit network struggled with or complemented existing public transportation, and if it reduced traffic congestion and pollution. 

Complementing Existing Transit

BCG remarks that ride-hailing services often compete with mass transit, mentioning a study in Boston that revealed that more than 40% of riders would have taken public transit if a ride-hailing service had not been available.
“On-demand transit services, on the other hand, can improve mass-transit usage when operators and local authorities work unitedly,” addressed the researchers. “Even the more generic zonal on-demand transit services, intended to provide greater transportation coverage, are helping to feed commuters to mass transit. In Arlington, 27% of the trips have been to or from the local commuter rail station.”

Lowering Pollution

The report highlights that transportation accounts for 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions, higher than any other industry, with personal vehicles being the main culprit. BCG notes that the struggle against climate change cannot be won without making drastic modifications.
“On-demand transit can be a mighty ally in this effort. Despite using gas-powered vans, the West Sacramento and Arlington services yearly save an estimated 60 and 150 tons of CO2 emissions, respectively, by aggregating riders into shared vehicles and reducing solo trips.”
The authors also note that with a limited number of vehicles in only part of Arlington, the on-demand service there was able to lessen emissions in the whole Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington region by 0.45%, which was “nearly twice as effective as other efforts.” 

Minimizing Congestion

Traffic congestion lowers the quality of life and economic productivity. In an effort to relieve congestion, London, New York, and other cities have executed congestion charge policies to disincentivize vehicle travel in city centers. In their report, BCG cites on-demand transit as another accessory at cities’ disposal, stating that:
“By pooling riders, on-demand transit services can go a long way toward decreasing the number of vehicle miles traveled,” BCG wrote. “In Arlington, for example, the service helped reduce nearly 400,000 miles of travel that would have happened if the riders had driven solo, corresponding to a decrease of 36% of total vehicle miles traveled.”

Progressing Economic Mobility 

By enhancing and extending the reach of public transit and giving people a convenient and affordable way to travel, on-demand transit also helps connect people to jobs, healthcare, education, and civic activities.
As heeded by the BCG report, these services’ “convenience and flexibility better the user experience over fixed-route mass transit while bringing good jobs within reach of neighborhoods inadequately served by the status quo.”
A recent BCG study in Paris showed that citizens in the wealthiest 10% of neighborhoods have access to 3X more qualified employment through public transit than residents in the bottom 50% of neighborhoods.

On-Demand Transit is Here to Stay

Beyond congestion alleviation, pollution reduction, and mass transit system improvement, Boston Consulting Group’s study confirms that on-demand transit is not simply a trend, but is rather a game-changing means that is here to stay.
“For a century, mass transit and private vehicles have served varied needs in the urban mobility scene,” the study reports. “Mass transit was intended to move as many people as possible at the most inexpensive out-of-pocket cost for passengers, while cars granted flexibility and freedom. But neither is working efficiently in most cities.”
For the first time, the public sector can implement the convenience and flexibility of a private vehicle at a fraction of the cost. On-demand transit, through which we can enhance transportation access, provide a premium level of customer service, and obtain and analyze an unparalleled amount of data, revolutionizes what mass transit can be. 

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