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Microtransit Will Reduce Transportation Inequity and Boost Transit Ridership in San Diego

By Sanjiv Nanda – Transportation Team, SanDiego350

Mini shuttle on the road

What is Microtransit: Microtransit refers to pooled rides in shared vans running on fixed or on-demand routes and schedules. It is one component of Flexible Fleets from SANDAG’s Five Big Moves in the 2021 Regional Transportation Plan. Like buses and ride-hailing services (Uber/Lyft), microtransit shuttles use existing roads and can serve unmet mobility needs of underserved populations now.

Need in San Diego: 88% of low income residents live more than 1/2 mile away from the nearest rail, trolley or express bus station. Many low-income transit-dependent households reside where transit service is limited to infrequent circulator buses, limited operating hours, and the need to make multiple transfers to complete trips. Microtransit will make it easier for these underserved residents and those with disabilities to get around. 

Line with two map markers

Integrated with the Regional Transit Network: Fixed-route buses and microtransit serve different needs. Both are necessary components of the regional transportation system. Microtransit provides in-community trips and access to the regional rapid transit network, increasing transit ridership. Taking into account the environmental and equity benefits (access to economic opportunity, education, shopping, healthcare, and recreation), microtransit is cheaper than continuing to rely on private cars and rideshare (Lyft/Uber) for local trips.

Sustainability: Efficiency is attained through dynamic scheduling and routing to optimize average passenger occupancy via ride pooling, and minimize the number of empty miles. When microtransit is scaled up, it can serve thousands of trips per day with short wait times, and short walks to shuttle stops, while reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are increasingly used.

Mini shuttle bus

Successful Models Exist: Los Angeles, Sacramento and others, have moved beyond limited term pilots and budgeted tens of millions of dollars to incorporate microtransit into their transit networks to meet needs unmet by their regular transit systems. National City and Chula Vista have recently received microtransit service pilot grants from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Housing: Since the ’90s, urban planners have pursued a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) paradigm – new mixed-use development in a half-mile zone around transit stations. Meanwhile, existing neighborhoods nearby that are not in the TOD zone have remained unserved by transit. Microtransit offers an alternate paradigm for urban planning by connecting existing neighborhoods to regional transit, and directing investment towards sidewalks, walkable neighborhoods and parks in microtransit-served zones. In turn, these microtransit zones become attractive for more affordable housing development in existing neighborhoods without contributing to additional sprawl.

Call to Action: While the National City and Chula Vista pilots, as well as other pilots that SANDAG will fund are promising first steps, we need a regional commitment to deploy microtransit in low income areas with gaps in transit service. We want transit agencies (MTS and NCTD) to integrate, fund, and operate microtransit to provide affordable neighborhood access in Environmental Justice communities with unmet access needs. We ask the board members of MTS, NCTD, and SANDAG to direct staff at these agencies to develop a comprehensive regional plan to provide a sustainable budget for microtransit using federal, CalTrans, and Transnet funds. 

For more information, view SanDiego350’s Microtransit White Paper here.

Executive Summary of the White Paper 

Join us virtually on Thursday, October 20th at 6pm for a Climate Chat on microtransit as a solution for transportation, equity, and environmental justice. Register Here

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