Puget Sound Region Launches On-Demand Shuttles Around Five Link Light Rail Stations

April 24, 2019

On April 16, Sound Transit and King County Metro, in partnership with the City of Seattle, introduced a new mobility on demand (MOD) service to examine and improve access to five Link light rail stations. The program, called Via to Transit, is part of one of the FTA MOD Sandbox projects that consists of a partnership between LA Metro, King County Metro, Sound Transit, Via Transportation Inc., and a research team of The Eno Center for Transportation, UCLA, the University of Oregon, and the University of Washington. The yearlong pilot is funded by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration and $2.7 million from Seattle’s 2014 voter-approved Transportation Benefit District. The goal of the new service, provided by Via as contracted under King County Metro, is to examine the effect of a first-mile last-mile service on mobility and access to public transit.

The university involvement and two-region scope of the project (LA Metro launched a similar service in January 2019) gives this MOD Sandbox project a unique set-up for research and analysis. The public agencies together with Via as the private MOD provider came to agreement on provision of in-app wheelchair accessible vehicles, a call center with interpreter services and the ability for a rider to set up an account through that call center, data sharing, and other complex elements of public, private, and research institution collaboration that typically pose challenges for projects involving private start-ups and established public agencies.

The final agreements between all parties involved set up analysis around planning, policy, and operations particularly with regard to equity and institutional feasibility. This pilot program provides for study of comparable service in the LA and Puget Sound regions, with declining and growing transit ridership, respectively, and the experimental design necessary for comprehensive quantitative analyses of the equity and access outcomes within the diverse communities served, or potentially served, around pilot locations.

The Puget Sound program will provide shared rides to users within specified catchment zones around five Link light rail stations: Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello, Rainier Beach, and Tukwila International Boulevard stations. Riders will be able to request a ride through the Via app or over the phone from anywhere within the zone to the station, or from the station to anywhere in that station’s zone. Providing alternative modes of access to light rail and bus could influence who rides transit or how comfortable or convenient a transit trip is. Riders can learn how to use the program and where the designated service areas through King County Metro’s website.

The Metro- and Sound Transit-provided Via service costs the same as a Metro bus ride: $1.50 for youth and ORCA LIFT card holders (low-income), $1.00 for registered seniors, Medicare recipients, and people with disabilities, and $2.75 for adults. Riders can pay with their ORCA card and transfer to the bus or light rail at the designated stations as if from any other Seattle-area public transportation option. Riders can also pay with a separate mobile ticket app called Transit GO Ticket. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are always available for in-app request in all pilot service areas.

Transit agencies across the country are looking to nontraditional services to encourage ridership, increase access, and improve the rider experience. The Puget Sound region has introduced a number of such new services. King County Metro also recently introduced a Ride2 program which consists of on-demand shuttles connecting people between home, work, and transit stations.

Via currently operates independently as a MOD provider in Chicago, New York, and Washington DC, and operates collaboratively with transit agencies and cities both nationally and internationally. The company announced this month that they will be partnering with a transit agency in Tel Aviv, Israel to provide MOD shuttles and that they are launching services across Japan.

Eno will continue to monitor and assess the collaboration in both the Puget Sound and Los Angeles regions. Previous work, including a 2018 report from Eno in collaboration with LA Metro also examined earlier microtransit pilots Eno, in collaboration with the university research team, is examining the MOD Sandbox project in both Puget Sound and Los Angeles and will build on earlier studies with the findings from the pilots.

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