Improving transit and shared mobility service and access in rural disadvantaged communities

Conclusions from Caroline Rodier et al. 2018

In general, the pilot concepts and locations were selected by the eight MPOs for implementation because they could be supported by redirecting funding from current underperforming transit services, showed significant promise for improving mobility and access in rural disadvantaged communities, and could be replicated in other communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley. MPOs and pilot partners in these locations also demonstrated a commitment to contribute funding and staff to pilot development and implementation.

Two pilot concepts in four counties were identified.

The first concept is carsharing and ridesourcing in affordable housing complexes (or Valley GO) in the Dinuba, Cutler, and Orosi community of Tulare County and the Lamont-Arvin and Wasco communities of Kern County. The development density of selected locations supports walk access to carsharing for residents in the affordable housing complexes and surrounding neighborhoods. Ridesourcing would be introduced to provide first and last mile access to transit and carsharing when it is not possible for residents in these communities to walk to these services. Ridesourcing would also provide direct access to destinations when it is not possible to complete an essential trip with transit or carsharing. Local ridesourcing drivers and discounted access to carsharing vehicles for approved ridesourcing services may overcome the revenue barriers for drivers. Carsharing and ridesourcing would be subsidized to ensure that the services are affordable to users. It is anticipated that this program would produce significant savings from reduced DAR service costs that can be used for sustained operation of public-private partnerships between transit agencies and the carsharing and ridesourcing providers.

The identified pilot communities in Kern and Tulare counties have relatively frequent transit service with stops in town centers. However, residents who live in the sparsely populated areas surrounding these towns must rely on DAR to get to those transit stops. This type of DAR service is very expensive (upwards of $80 per one-way trip) and limited to advanced reservations (up to seven days in advance). More than one DAR van serves these communities. The intent of the pilot would be to serve enough DAR demand to retire one or more DAR vehicle in each county. Retiring DAR vehicles would provide considerable cost savings (annually $375,000 in Kern and $176,000 in Tulare) that could be applied to sustain and expand the carsharing and resourcing programs. Moreover, there are numerous rural disadvantaged communities (with affordable housing complexes) throughout the San Joaquin Valley that could benefit from a similar pilot model (see Figure 3 above).

Vehicles would be installed at seven affordable Self-Help Enterprises Inc. (SHE) housing properties in Kern and Tulare counties (see Table 7) for use in a carsharing and ridesourcing service. A carsharing service would be selected through a competitive bid process. The carsharing service would purchase vehicles; equip vehicles; provide insurance; manage reservations (accessed by phone, website, and smart phone application), vehicle access, and payment systems; and maintain and clean vehicles. The carsharing service would be available to those who live in the pilot affordable housing complexes and the broader community. Memberships and use would be subsidized (by grant funds) for affordable housing residents and low-income community members.

Residents of affordable housing complexes would be able to join ridesourcing companies and use these vehicles to provide first and last mile travel to existing transit service or direct transport for eligible trips (e.g., medical appointments, late shift workers, night school students, and grocery shopping) in designated service areas. Drivers would be paid an adjusted ridesourcing rate that will cover some cost of the carsharing rental, which would be linked to the quantity of rides provided. Users could access their local DAR provider by phone (who will forward the request to participating ridesourcing companies) or book a ride on a ridesourcing website or smartphone application. Qualified users and trips would be allowed to use the service at no or reduced cost (subsidized by the grant). Methods would be developed to allow unbanked users to access the carsharing and ridesourcing pilot services. We have interviewed potential carsharing partners to confirm the feasibility and cost-estimates of providing the described carsharing and ridesourcing service (Enterprise CarShare, Zipcar, and e-rive).

Victor Valley Transit Authority in Needles California started a carsharing program in August of 2016 with a minimum revenue guarantee (about $35,000) to Enterprise Carshare ( The program is largely self-sufficient with a healthy share of the revenue guarantee still available. The second concept is a technology platform that enables improved efficiency for multiple independently operated responsive transportation services (or Valley FLEX) in jurisdictions of northeast Stanislaus and southeast San Joaquin counties. These services include DAR, volunteer transportation organizations, carsharing, taxis, and ridesourcing.

The platform aggregates the demand and supply of available services: (a) participating transit providers will communicate the demand for travel (departure/arrival times and locations) and (b) suppliers will communicate vehicle availability, capacity, and fares. The platform will use this data to match travelers and drivers to minimize service costs, travel times, and GHG emissions by filling available seats and reducing empty travel miles. Outreach will be conducted to engage and expand service providers and to increase the pool of volunteer drivers.

Communities in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties also have high DAR costs. However, here no single transit provider can reduce the number of DAR vans they operate and still meet the needs of those who must transport wheelchair equipment when they travel.

Multiple independent transit agencies, volunteer transportation organizations, and ridesourcing services provide transportation in these areas. To reduce DAR costs and expand access in these communities, a technology platform is needed to coordinate existing services and travel demand to better match trips, fill empty seats, and reduce empty vehicle miles traveled. Such a technology platform (FlexDenmark) was implemented in most of rural Denmark and reduced costs of five participating transit agencies by 20% (6). The program has operated for 15 years. The Valley FLEX technology platform will merge the demand for DAR and the supply of vehicles from public DAR vans, deviated buses, volunteer transportation organizations (VTOs), carsharing, taxis, and ridesourcing (e.g., Uber and Lyft).

Participating transit providers will communicate the demand for travel (departure/arrival times and locations) and suppliers will communicate vehicle availability, capacity, and fares. Valley FLEX will use demand and supply data to match travelers with compatible origin-destination locations and departure-arrival times to minimize service costs, travel times, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and GHG emissions (see Figure 4). Reservations can be made in advance or on-demand. Methods will be developed to address the payment barriers of unbanked customers. The platform acts as a competitive marketplace that lowers costs by rewarding the cheapest and fastest providers. Two companies that provide the proposed platform (DemandTrans and TransLoc) have confirmed that they are ready and able to provide and operate the pilot technology platform for this project. A vendor will be secured through a competitive bidding process.

Project partners are DAR providers in the pilot areas (San Joaquin Regional Transit, Stanislaus County Transit, and City of Escalon Transit), volunteer transportation organizations (MOVE), and ridesourcing services that operate in the area. Users can request the service by calling the DAR service provider, using a smart phone application, and/or accessing a website. Advanced and real-time travel demand information is provided by the DAR transit agencies and supply information is provided by transportation services (i.e., DAR, VTOs, carsharing, and ridesourcing). The Valley FLEX technology platform vendor would continuously input the demand and supply data from project partners and communicate available rides to users via phone, internet, or smart phone to users and drivers via smart phone or tablet.

The project would also support the growth of the existing pool of volunteer transportation drivers through outreach and engagement services provided by MOVE. The service would be scaled, first, throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties (incorporated and unincorporated areas), and subsequently throughout the Valley. Economies of scale are achieved with high trip volumes. Assuming operating cost reduction of 20% and using total operating expenses for DAR in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties (from the 2016 22 Federal Transit Database), we estimate a cost savings of $1.2 million annually, which could be applied to fund ongoing operations (see Table 8). If implemented throughout the Valley, annual operating costs could be reduced by almost $6 million.

Table 8. Estimated Annual Cost Savings from Valley FLEX in San Joaquin and Stanislaus CountiesTransit Agencies Annual Operating Savings San Joaquin Regional Transit District$406.000Stanislaus County Public Works – Transit$278,000City of Escalon$14.,000Modesto Area Express$516,000City of Manteca$68,000Total $1,283,000 23 FIGURE 4. System diagram for Valley FLEX


Shared-use mobility services largely serve major metropolitan areas. However, increasingly officials who represent rural communities want to know whether these types of services may be able to help them provide more cost-effective access to rural residents than is currently possible by fixed-route and DAR transit services. Many of these officials must contend with low farebox recovery rates that threaten transit funding and subsequent cutbacks in transit services that are often strongly opposed by constituents. In this study, the cost-effectiveness of existing inter-city transit service in rural disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley (California) is compared to hypothetical ridesharing and carsharing services. The results of our analysis suggest that there is potential to reduce-transit costs and reinvest those cost savings to expand shared mobility services, if demonstrations show that these services improve access in rural disadvantaged communities. However, the results also show that transit agencies provide very cost-effective transit services under challenging conditions in many communities across the Valley. Moreover, current ridesourcing fares are unlikely to generate enough drivers to serve more remote rural disadvantage areas of the Valley. Counties that want to contract with ridesourcing companies to provide services in more remote rural areas need to understand how to motivate drivers to serve those areas using some form of increased financial compensation, which should be included in any estimate of cost for a public-private partnership. Programs that undercut the ridership base of cost-effective transit services would tend to increase total long-run costs to agencies and passengers. Careful analysis is required to understand where, when, and how shared-use mobility services can be introduced to expand transportation access in to residents in rural communities.

We developed two project concepts suitable for seven communities in four San Joaquin Valley counties based on our analysis. The next step in this project is to conduct more in-depth evaluation of the proposed concepts and locations to further refine the pilot concepts for implementation.