Transit in Flex: Examining Service Fragmentation of New App-Based, On-Demand Transit Services

The transportation industry may be going through its largest technological revolution in a century, with new forms of on-demand transportation capitalizing on innovations like the Global Positioning System (GPS) chips to develop app-based, on-demand transportation, connecting user and driver, known alternatively as ridesourcing, ride-hailing, Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). As TNCs spring up along with other app-based, on-demand service models like ridesplitting, microtransit and E-Hail, among others, a growing number of cities are considering whether they could shed the high cost and unprofitability of running fixed route transit services through conversion to app-based, on-demand systems. Fixed route public transit has traditionally been hampered by political fragmentation, manifested in numerous geographical service gaps created by a failure of local transit agencies to plan for cross-jurisdictional services. Fragmentation can create equity concerns for residents of transit deserts, unable to access key services across the city or county line. For example, the Detroit man James Robertson spent several hours commuting to work because his job was located in a city that did not join the transit system, and his route crossed two counties—each with its own bus system. This required an untimed transfer, and a long walk (Laitner, 2015). Similarly, the Dallas Fort Worth metro region suffers from large service gaps, with Arlington and Grand Prairie both sitting outside the region’s large transit systems. This study examines how the problem could change, or perhaps be overcome, by the onset of app-based, on-demand transportation technology. Since jurisdictional fragmentation is a problem rooted in excessive local government autonomy (Weinreich, Skuzinski, Hamidi, 2018 working paper), conceivably, this could be overcome by private services, when funded by private sources, and regulated by states and regional governments, rather than locally. As local governments consider harnessing app-based, on-demand technology to operate their public transit systems, often in partnership with private companies, it remains to be seen whether these services will be designed in such a way that they can overcome the jurisdictional fragmentation seen in previous fixed route services (Rivasplata, et al., 2012; Miller et al., 2005). Furthermore, as local governments consider ways to incorporate on-demand transit services into their existing transit systems, they will need to know how governance structures could be designed in order to avoid cross-jurisdictional fragmentation. This study conducts surveys and interviews of the cities and transit agencies across the state of Texas that have already implemented TNC services, or plan to do so. This study examines the reasons for fragmentation connected to government and funding policy. This project identifies local governments that are considering app-based, on-demand services as either a replacement or a compliment to their fixed route services. Researchers interview public officials about what they have/have not done to ensure the new services overcome jurisdictional fragmentation and cross-jurisdictional lines, and what they think can be done to make cross-jurisdictional public transportation more robust. This study provides a strong understanding of the governance structure underlying the development of such services, which may be leading to equity challenges. This study offers a first examination of the choices local elected officials are making that will shape their transit systems for decades to come. The Texas planning environment, with its high interest in using on-demand technology as a cost-saving alternative to fixed route transit service, offers a strong test case. This study surveys public officials across a range of medium to large local governments and the transit agencies that serve them, revealing which ones are in the process of “uberizing” their transit systems; what steps they have/have not taken to overcome fragmentation from the past; and what policy solutions regional leaders think could be implemented to provide services more favorable to cross-jurisdictional trips. This study concludes by identifying opportunities for better coordination across services and for federal and state policy makers to incentivize coordination at the local level. The authors find that transit agency service boundaries and municipal jurisdictional boundaries had a large and negative impact on service integration across jurisdictional lines. Yet much of the funding for the myriad pilot services comes from the same sources—state and federal funds, or metropolitan planning organization/council of governments (MPO/COG) support. This study recommends stronger requirements by federal and state governments, and by MPOs, to require service integration as a condition for receiving grant funds.

  • Record URL:
  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, University Transportation Centers Program.
  • Corporate Authors:

    University of Texas, Arlington

    Arlington, TX  United States  76010

    Center for Transportation Equity, Decisions & Dollars (CTEDD)

    University of Texas at Arlington
    Arlington, TX  United States  76019

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Authors:
    • Weinreich, David
    • Skuzinski, Thomas
    • Hamidi, Shima
    • Reeves, S Matthew
  • Publication Date: 2020

Language

  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: Appendices; Figures; Maps; Photos; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 112p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01727565
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: CTEDD 018-10
  • Contract Numbers: CTEDD 018-10
  • Files: UTC, TRIS, ATRI, USDOT
  • Created Date: Jan 8 2020 5:08PM