By Jim Cameron
Tired of fighting all the traffic and struggling to find parking? Need to get to the train station, a doctor’s appointment or just want to go out partying on the weekend? There’s a new solution coming your way: Microtransit.
The folks at Uber told me awhile back that one-third of all their rides in Connecticut are to or from a train station, what transportation experts call the first / last mile. But now the state is funding a new, town-based solution: shared vans for as little as $2 per ride per passenger.
This week the CDOT announced nine pilot projects to bring Microtransit to communities from Stamford to Mystic, from Hartford to New Haven. To see how this would work, look no further than Norwalk’s WHEELS2U which has been running since 2018.
To grab a ride there all you need is to download their app, plug in your destination and hit “go”. A van will pick you up in 10-12 minutes for a shared ride, like an Uber Pool. And you’re not allowed to tip the driver.
Norwalk’s WHEELS2U’s three vans only runs Thursday through Sunday from the afternoon to as late as 11 pm, but they hope to expand those days and hours.
Pre-COVID they’d carry as many as 125 passengers per day but these days it’s more like 30, a number they hope will grow as they’ve just expanded their service area north to the Merritt 7 office district.
Their riders not only go from the train to work but also head for the bars and restaurants, not having to worry about limited parking or less-limited imbibing.
WHEELS2U also operates a commuter service in Westport offering 150 riders a day a lift from their homes to the train stations. The Westport service, run by Norwalk Transit, hopes to expand to other destinations in town, not just the train stations.
The low fares are not expected to cover operating costs, with the state subsidizing 82% of the cost in Norwalk and 67% in Westport.
“We receive a lot of feedback on our Microtransit services,” says WHEELS2U CEO Matt Pentz. “People in Westport love it, people in Wilton want it, and our team in Norwalk is very excited about the innovative opportunities that CTDOT is providing though the pilot project”.
In Bridgeport the bus company, GBTA, has also been included in the new grant money. They plan to expand service north to Trumbull with their own app, RIDECO, with rides provided by the local taxi company.
“We don’t have to send a 40 foot bus,” says GBTA CEO Doug Holcomb. “And as we gather data from the app we can track demand for possible expansion”.
GBTA is anticipating demand from office and factory workers. Eventually the service may expand to Stratford and Fairfield.
Fixed-route bus service makes sense in densely populated cities but it’s hoped that Microtransit will bring on-demand, semi-mass transit to the smaller, more spread-out communities.
So next time you’re heading out, save on gas and driving / parking woes by thinking small… Microtransit.
Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here. You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.”