Council approves microtransit pilot scheme, aims to give riders ‘more control’ over transportation needs – Reuters
SALISBURY — City Council on Tuesday evening approved the further development of an internal microtransit pilot program that will provide on-demand transit services to select Salisbury Transit users.
The program will work in the same way as ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft, but with Salisbury Transit vehicles and operators.
“I think (users) will really appreciate it because they can have more control over their transportation needs,” said Transit Manager Rodney Harrison. “They can schedule a trip whenever they want. They don’t have to stop and wait. They can look at their phone and schedule a ride and in about 20 minutes a vehicle will be there, so that’s more responsive service.
Harrison said microtransit should be more efficient than the current fixed-route method because it will use dynamic routing.
“Dynamic routing should tell you where to go faster, faster, and who to pick up,” Harrison said.
The microtransit pilot program will replace route three (blue), which encompasses parts of Salisbury, East Spencer and Spencer and includes stops at the VA Medical Center, Novant Health Rowan Medical Centers and the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Over the past 11 months, Route 3 has recorded approximately 24,827 trips. A trip is when a single person enters a public transport vehicle to make a trip.
People located approximately a quarter mile from Route Three will be eligible for the microtransit pilot program. ADA Paratransit runners can be picked up further outside this area.
The pilot program will use a software-as-a-service (SAAS) model in which the city will lease the software but provide the service with its own operators and vehicles. During the council meeting, Harrison assured council member David Post that Salisbury Transit has the vehicles and staff to run the scheme. Using the SAAS model, Harrison said, will allow the city to respond quickly to demand. It is difficult to anticipate demand for the microtransit service as it is a new scheme in Salisbury, he added.
The pilot program, Harrison said, will give the city a better sense of whether committing to the long-term program is worth it.
“It would also collect driver performance data and with that data we will provide the board with the results at the next goal setting retreat,” Harrison said.
The City of Salisbury will issue a request for proposals for software on Thursday to run the microtransit pilot program. Once the proposals are received, the City will have a better idea of the cost of the microtransportation pilot program. Pricing for the program has also not yet been determined.
With board approval, the goal is now to launch the pilot program in December.
If the city secures coveted funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program, the microtransit program would transition to a transportation-as-a-service model. Using this model, the city would pay a third-party vendor to operate all facets of the microtransit program, including operators, vehicles, and software. The grant application was submitted in May.
The grant would require no local matching and will likely be awarded in the fall with an expected start date of July 2023. If the city receives grant funding, the microtransit program would expand to include three additional rural service areas. Funding from the US Department of Transportation would likely be for three years.
In addition to approving the microtransit pilot program, the board on Tuesday approved spending $688,298 in Volkswagen settlement program grants to purchase two replacement 25-foot all-electric vehicles, along with charging systems. Vehicles are ADA compliant.
Salisbury received a total of $818,771.50 from the settlement. Council approved that the remaining $130,473 will be used to upgrade Salisbury Transit facilities at 300 W. Franklin St. to support charging stations. Harrison said all-electric vehicles would charge there overnight.
The new vehicles can be used to provide microtransit services in-house, leased from a third-party provider to operate the microtransit program, or support fixed routes and ADA Paratransit service. Harrison said the plan is to order the vehicles as soon as possible because the delivery time could be between 8 and 12 months.