Eno Releases New Mobility on Demand Reports with Data Insights and Recommendations

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public transit in the United States was going through a very dynamic period. The FTA’s MOD Sandbox Demonstration Program came along at the right time in order to help transit agencies, cities, private sector providers, and others understand whether public transit agencies could successfully partner with TNCs to deliver first-mile/last-mile service, and whether that service could provide better solutions to accessibility challenges for low income households and persons with disabilities. Eno’s comprehensive evaluations of pilots in Los Angeles and Puget Sound show mixed results.

Mobility on demand (MOD) refers to transportation services that can be hailed in real-time for an impending trip. MOD integrates data such as location tracking and traffic conditions, with user-entered destination and payment information. Through a partnership with Los Angeles Metro, King Country Metro, and Sound Transit, Eno led a team of researchers to evaluate two MOD pilots in Los Angeles and the Puget Sound regions. The research team also included the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Washington, and the University of Oregon.

This week, Eno released three evaluation reports that aim to understand how the pilots performed during their first year of service. These reports include an evaluation of the MOD pilot in the Los Angeles region, the evaluation of the MOD pilot in the Puget Sound region, and a summary document of the lessons learned and recommendations for other agencies.

These reports build on previous reports exploring how to develop models for service contracting between private TNCs and public transit agencies, developing data sharing agreements between agencies and private MOD providers, the integration of fare payment systems for MOD projects, and how MOD projects affect access for people with physical disabilities.

So, should MOD be a long-term part of public transit?

On the positive side, the pilots illustrate that such a service is certainly deployable, and MOD can be a tool in the transit service toolbox. Despite initial hurdles with respect to contracting, both services were successfully launched and carried riders to and from their destinations. The technology worked and the vast majority of trips requested were completed and were rated highly by the riders. Some riders apparently found the service very valuable and used the service extensively.

But agencies and experts need to recognize the limits of MOD service. The Puget Sound pilot averaged 3.94 riders per driver per hour and the Los Angeles Pilot averaged 2.61 over the course of the year-long pilot. Utilization rose in the early weeks of the pilots and improved gradually before falling as COVID-19 restrictions came into place in March 2020. For the month of February 2020, the Puget Sound and Los Angeles pilots were averaging 4.37 and 2.47 rides per hour, respectively, with peak times averaging over 7.48 and 3.45 rides per hour, respectively. The service was not designed to maximize ridership, but even during peak hours it was nearly equivalent to a low ridership bus line and generally cost more per trip than average traditional bus service. Such ridership numbers and uptake might make the service more appropriate for augmenting paratransit rather than expanding first-mile last-mile access.

While the service did provide a new option, riders with lower incomes and those with disabilities did not take the service in greater proportions than the existing transit services. Changes in the pilot parameters and continued community engagement might make some improvements in these areas, but the pilots did make concerted efforts to maximize the potential of the service.

If an agency does want to pilot or deploy MOD service, they should follow best practices in contracting, data sharing, fare integration, and accessibility. The experience of agencies like LA Metro, Sound Transit, and King County Metro have developed compelling lessons for other agencies. In doing so, agencies should be transparent about how pilots and regular service perform and how that compares to traditional services in terms of access, utilization, and costs, will be helpful in the decision-making processes. Other agencies should set performance goals and targets similar to these pilots and transparently report them. Beyond following written best practices, agencies interested in conducting their own, similar service should reach out to public agency staff in those regions and others that have conducted MOD pilots.

Both pilots continued during COVID, with some significant changes to service to account for the healthcare emergency. The Los Angeles pilot has allowed point-to-point service, added essential destinations outside of the zones, included food delivery from food banks, and eliminated shared rides. Similarly, the Puget Sound pilot has eliminated shared rides, reduced their service areas and stations served, but have added new features to increase access for people with disabilities and low-income households.

The Eno Center for Transportation along with the University of Los Angeles and the University of Oregon are continuing to investigate the outcomes of the second year of the Los Angeles pilot, with further research and new recommendations forthcoming.

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