“Micro Transit” Back on the Table as Summit County Targets Regional Transportation
Summit County is looking toward the future of regional transit and is considering a number of solutions for the region’s growing mass transit system. “Micro transit” options, similar to the ones Park City decided against in 2017, are also being looked at.
Park City first considered a micro transit program to address crowding at parking areas and encourage more ridership on bus routes running throughout the city in 2016. The proposal would have provided on-demand rides in the downtown area via an app but was met with stiff opposition from local transportation companies and was ultimately scrapped the next year.
Three years after Park City pulled the plug, Summit County is now looking into whether a similar option is better suited for their needs.
The concept of micro transit is this: Use smaller vehicles to transport riders to and from major transit hubs on what are commonly called “first and last mile” routes in an effort to reduce parking issues and ultimately encourage more use of public transit. Simply, if where you’re trying to go is too far from the nearest bus stop, you’re more likely to just drive yourself.
Summit County will be examining a number of their routes traditionally served by larger busses to determine whether those riders would be better served by a more direct, on-demand service using smaller vehicles.
Summit County Regional Transportation Planning Director Caroline Rodriguez is optimistic about the possibilities of a micro transit option for the county and told KPCW first and last mile routes look promising.
“My hope is that it will appear a lot more flexible to our consumers, more like an Uber situation, so that people don’t feel like they’re waiting, you know, 30 minutes for a big bus to pick them up five blocks from their house when it could be a five minute wait on a smaller vehicle that picks them up at the bottom of their driveway,” Rodriguez said.
Although convenient, the price per ride of a micro transit route can actually be higher than one on a traditional large bus. One of the biggest sticking points of Park City’s ill-fated proposal was the price per ride on some routes was calculated to be north of $20.
Rodriguez said although the price per ride can be higher with micro transit, the numbers can work out if few people are riding the large busses to begin with.
“It isn’t cheaper,” she explained. “To run a large bus is much cheaper and that’s why Park City has done the large bus fixed route for so many years. However, when you look at it in the context of your whole system and how nimble you can be and how you can use data to inform the types of vehicles, the types of trips, and the trips you’re grouping, there is the potential to bring down that cost. Even if it’s much cheaper to run a large bus on a fixed route, if nobody’s on it, overall, it’s not cheaper for the system.”
With Park City looking to hand over much of their regional transit to Summit County in the near future, the county sees a clear need to examine their services, even amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Park City Councilmember Steve Joyce told KPCW last week even though the city wants to focus more on their own services and let Summit County take the lead regionally, there will still have to be close cooperation.
“Now, we’re really trying to differentiate a little bit and maybe have Park City focus on more of our services and Summit County stepping up to the plate and saying ‘we’ll take care of the regional pieces,’” said Joyce. “But a lot of our workforce comes from places like Heber, Midway, but also Kamas, Coalville, Oakley and I think this is just kind of a natural extension of that.”
Summit County has already begun compiling rider data and hopes to have initial findings towards the end of the year. Rodriguez said any decisions on future transit options are still likely months away.
“In the new year, we’ll start to make, we’ll start to have some priorities and sort of hone in on strategies and decide how we want to proceed and what we really want to drill down on in terms of which modes make the most sense in which areas,” Rodriguez said. “We just don’t know. We’re going through the market analysis now and talking to a lot of stakeholders to see what that looks like.”
Summit County is aiming to transition to their new transportation services beginning next June and has a targeted start date of July 1st, 2021.