What's the big deal with “microtransit?” | Valley Metro

Zoom microtransit vehicle

Microtransit. It's quite the buzzword in the transportation industry. But what is it, exactly? Is it only for really short trips? Let's put microtransit under the microscope.

Microtransit incorporates elements of both regular buses and rideshare services like Uber or Lyft. Much like a rideshare service, a microtransit service would dispatch vehicles based on requests from a smartphone app. A van or similar vehicle would arrive at the requested location, pick up passengers, and deliver them to another location.

Sound like an Uber or Lyft? Well, sort of. There are definitely similarities between the two types of services. However, there are some key distinctions.

First, microtransit isn't meant to be a door-to-door service. Under normal circumstances, a microtransit service won't pick you up from your house and deliver you right outside your workplace. You might have to go to what's referred to as a "virtual stop," like a shopping center or library. It can be anywhere a microtransit service decides would be a good place to pick up and drop off passengers.

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Another key difference between microtransit and rideshare is the cost to the passenger. A microtransit passenger will typically pay much less than they would if they took an Uber or Lyft for the same ride. That's due to the fact that the service is partially subsidized.

Microtransit services are also distinctive in that they are operated by professional drivers. Unlike a rideshare service, no one can just decide they're going to be a microtransit driver and take people around in their own vehicle. Microtransit opeators have the professional training and experience to pick up and drop off passengers and drive in a safe manner while they do so, just like bus operators. Vehicles are also cleaned by a trained staff.

A microtransit vehicle also has an advantage over a fixed bus route in that it has the flexibility to travel anywhere within its service area. For instance, bus riders may have to take two or even three buses to get to their destination. A microtransit vehicle would be able to go from virtual stop to virtual stop with no transfers. It doesn't have a fixed route so it can go anywhere. Not only that, microtransit vehicles can adjust their trip as necessary to pick up or drop off people and keep them on the move.

So, when are we going to see microtransit vehicles traveling on the streets of metro Phoenix? It might be a while. Phoenix already has multiple methods of mass transit with buses, light rail, and future bus rapid transit. Microtransit is really attractive in communities where traditional mass transit methods aren't as robust as they are near downtown Phoenix. Avondale and Chandler are already looking into incorporating microtransit as a way to get around. Avondale Transit Manager Matthew Dudley says Avondale's service should be running in July or August of this year.

Want to learn more about microtransit? Check out Storylines episode 6, where hosts Brittany and Madeline talk to experts on the subject including Matthew Dudley and what's happening to bring microtransit to the Valley.

Alex Tsotsos
Alex Tsotsos
Rail Operations Communications Specialist
Writer, editor, musician, gamer, and former news professional. Frequently seen at Phoenix Rising matches and jogging around Gainey Ranch. May throw things in the presence of typos.